Normally when you hear about schools using a visual schedule, it is used in the context of the special education classroom. It is true that teachers use the visual schedule readily in settings where children are autistic or have other disabilities that necessitate knowing what’s next.
My discovery that all children could benefit from the visual schedule was when my own son was 3 1/2. He is a highly creative child. He is detail-oriented. He loves books. He likes to know what is next. I had heard about visual schedules, and I decided to create one for my son. It was just a piece of paper with pictures showing the order that things happened during our day. The transformation that took place from this one step was amazing. By removing anxiety about what was next, the visual schedule helped him calmly enjoy his day.
The visual schedule was beneficial to my son at the preschool level, but it can easily alleviate the anxiety that elementary students of all ages experience at the start of a new year. Unfortunately, many students today even in Christian schools face a lot of insecurity at home. One of our jobs as teachers is to help them to be as secure as possible in their school setting, while also teaching them that their ultimate security is in the knowledge that God is always with them, and that even when the future is unknown, we know that He is in control.
Although the strength of the visual schedule is providing security through predictability, it is good to include a wild card. The wild card means that sometimes things will happen differently than the visual schedule indicates. Sometimes the wild card can be a fun, positive thing. Sometimes it will be something that has to be done. Keeping the schedule general also helps you to be able to be flexible while still helping a child have comfort in knowing what will happen next.
The visual schedule can be adapted to fit the needs of students from preschool through middle school. Auditory learners might remember the schedule better when the teacher reads the order of the day. As students begin to learn to read, the visual schedule can include words along with the pictures listing the day’s activities. Some students, particularly younger students during the first few weeks of the school year or semester, will benefit from seeing the list with pictures and hearing the schedule read in the morning. Students who understand what is going to happen feel secure in that knowledge.
Even upper elementary and middle school students can benefit from the use of a visual schedule. Fifth and sixth graders are at an age mentally and emotionally where they are about as insecure as they were when they first entered school. Things are changing, and often sixth graders are placed into a middle school environment. This can throw them off quickly. Using a visual schedule along with a printed schedule can be very beneficial for this age group. As you help them to take responsibility for their own schedule, you might want to print and laminate the visual schedule for them to put in their folder. This will not only help them to feel better about the day, but it will also reduce the time you spend in telling them what is next. It is important to offer upper elementary students security just as with lower elementary students.
If you have never implemented a visual schedule in your elementary classroom, I highly recommend that you try it in your upcoming semester or next school year. Ultimately it will save you time by reducing misbehavior often caused by the insecurity that students face.
How could you implement a visual schedule in your classroom?