There are many benefits to using a visual schedule in the classroom. They can be a multi-tool for keeping students organized, encouraging independence, reducing meltdowns, and more.
Visual Schedule as Calendar Time
Calendar time doesn’t have to focus on a monthly calendar. That large time period can be difficult for young students to grasp. Begin small, with a daily schedule, so students can see the progress of time and put meaning to words such as “before” and “after.” As students get older, a weekly calendar is a step up. There, students can add words such as “today,” “tomorrow,” and “yesterday.” This makes the concept of a calendar much more accessible for small children to comprehend.
A Patience Booster
Preschoolers are, overall, not the best at waiting. Having a visual schedule can help reduce the number of times a child asks, “Is it time to do centers yet?” Young learners can reference the schedule and see that they have to do circle time and music first. It also makes it easier to get through non-preferred tasks if a student knows that a favorite activity follows close behind.
Visual Schedules as a Literacy Lift
It is important to provide pictures and words with visual schedules. Used as another literacy learning tool, the visual schedule becomes a great source of environmental text. Students recognize the different words such as “Circle Time” and “Snack,” even when the pictures are covered.
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Sequencing with a Visual Schedule
Time is a difficult concept for young learners. Sometimes, visual schedules have clocks or times listed next to the pictures and words. This can be overwhelming for most preschoolers. Instead, focusing on sequencing words such as “first,” “next,” and “last” can be easier to understand. Words that express temporal relations, such as “before” and “after,” are also easy to practice with a visual schedule.
Master Managing Transitions
Sometimes, preschool students can be stubborn. It’s a natural part of development, but it also isn’t very helpful in the classroom environment! Having a visual schedule to reference eliminates arguments about if snack time will happen before or after outside time. It also assists in giving students advance notice when it’s time to move to a new activity. Phrases such as “When the timer goes off, what is next on the schedule?” Students have a clear reminder of what happens next. The teacher can even cover or flip schedule cards as each part of the day is complete. A student who is anxious about their parent returning can see the time ticking down without even reading a clock!
Visual schedules make it easy to alert students to a schedule change. During morning meeting or circle time, the teacher merely has to point out that addition or change. This accommodates students that need a little more time to adapt to changes.
Reinforce and Supplement Verbal Instructions with a Visual Schedule
“In one ear and out the other!” Often, preschoolers are distracted by all of the things around them. Verbal instructions might not be high on their list when they’re thinking about their friends, the toys they want to play with, and getting outside to that playground. Even for focused students, a visual schedule reinforces and supplements what the teacher has said, and children can refer to it over the course of the day. This is also excellent for many neurodivergent learners, who may have difficulty processing verbal instructions, but can interpret a visual cue with relative ease. For some students, a small copy of the schedule they can carry, or even a checklist on a clipboard, helps build independence alongside alternative communication.
Visual Schedules Make Children Feel Safe
Providing students with a visual schedule to check throughout the day helps reassure them because they know what is happening next. Schedules are a great way to develop autonomy and set students up for a successful school experience.
Preschoolers can be anxious when going to school for the first time. It is a daunting experience not to know what to expect. Having a visual schedule in the preschool classroom can help to reduce that “not-knowing-what’s-next” anxiety. Having that schedule follow a set routine adds predictability and stability. This predictability also helps reduce the number of problematic behaviors that stem from anxiety.
Having a visual reminder that the children can reference gives them some control over any lingering anxiety about what might happen in the day. It’s similar to a child scared of the dark using a flashlight or nightlight.
Schedules and routines are essential for young learners – and honestly, adults too! Routines provide a feeling of safety. Knowing what will happen next makes the unknown known. And children that are feeling safe are children that are ready to learn.