The Connection Between Behavior Management and Visual Schedules Part 2

By Chumi Millman, M.S., CCC-SLP, SHEMESH Special Education and Support Consultant

Feel free to read Part 1 here.

We should probably be somewhat flexible in our definition of “smooth transitions” when referring to a group of preschool students.  We know there will be “hiccups” like a student needing to urgently use the bathroom, a small-scale tantrum, students pushing or shoving, and lots more! “Smooth” may look more like readily-solved problems, misbehavior at a minimum or of short duration, and the teacher keeping calm and having effective ideas for solving the issues that arise.

That sounds pretty good!!

But how do we get there?  I think visual schedules can help teachers achieve those kinds of “smooth” transitions.

So, let’s talk “visual schedules” …

First, we need to define “visual”: 

- The students can look at the schedule and easily identify what’s coming next.  This means that the pictures/words are developmentally-appropriate, at eye-level, large enough/easily visible.  For example, a visual schedule that includes only words and no pictures for 4-year old students is not considered “visual” because the visual information is not of use to the students.

- Additionally, it is a good idea to be intentional when using visuals for students.  We don’t want to overwhelm them with visual information and want the visual to be inviting.

Next, let’s define “schedule”:

-Essentially, the “schedule” piece refers to predictability (e.g. students know what’s coming next).  It should also reflect well-defined expectations/procedures/actions for scheduled activities.  Schedules can be flexible, too, and one of their greatest benefits is that you can visually show students changes to the schedule so that they can internalize the changes.

Click here for an example of a visual schedule

Finally, getting back to those 3 principles….

Quick Thought Exercise- Take a minute to think about how visual schedules can support the use of the 3 Key Principles (Be Proactive, Use Action, and Less is Always More)


Here are some ideas…

Be Proactive:

-Sandwich high-interest activities with less motivating activities

-Use the visual schedule to redirect students to the task at hand and/or shift their attention to what’s coming next

-Use the visual schedule to educate students on time lapse and ease the burden on their emotions regarding time (e.g. “When exactly is later?!”)

-Manage high-interest activities/perseveration by allocating time in the schedule for these activities and referring students to that information if they need it

-Use reminders like “5 more minutes” to help students gear up for a transition in the schedule

Use Action:

             -Alternate active and sit-down activities in the schedule

-Train students to come to a transition area to ‘reset’ before moving to the next activity on the schedule

-Teachers can shift their positions closer to students who need support during transitions and still refer all students to look at the next activity on the schedule

-Some teachers have students manipulate the schedule themselves to identify the next activity.  This seems to ease the transition for some students and eases the emotional response.

-Schedule breaks and be conscious of emotional self-regulation needs when developing the schedule (e.g. after recess, incorporate a calming activity)

Less is Always More:

             -Point to the schedule with a simple phrase if necessary to help redirect students

             -Visual schedules tap into visual learning and reduce the need for talking

-Use first/then strategies by using the schedule to help students recognize that a more motivating activity is coming once the current activity is concluded

-Incorporate routines for activities in the schedule so that students know what to do and expect at each point in the schedule

             -Consider using a fast-tempo clean-up song instead of talking when it’s “clean up time”

That’s all folks!

After a school break is a great time to introduce a visual schedule ;)


*Please feel free to post suggestions for future SHEMESH blog topics as comments on the facebook post.*