One strategy suggested by the Center for Social Emotional Foundations in Early Learners (CSEFEL) for children that are developmentally delayed or mildly autistic is to use a daily visual schedule for classroom routines. Although suggested for special needs children, it is also very appropriate for typically developing children to encourage and support positive behavior.
Teachers in early childhood classrooms should always display a daily visual schedule to give children the opportunity to feel secure in the classroom routine. Using pictures gives children visual clues about the environment and what activity will come next during the school day. It becomes a good reference point and a simple way to discuss day-to-day activities. For children with mild autism and developmental delays, a visual schedule allows the teacher to focus the child’s attention on one item or activity. It is suggested that for special needs children, the teacher should indicate and use just one picture activity at a time, as opposed to lining up the entire daily schedule. When displaying a visual schedule in the classroom, the teacher should remember the following points:
• The schedule should be placed at the eye level of the children. This allows the schedule to be a true teaching tool and not just a decoration.
• The schedule should always be displayed horizontally, left to right. This becomes a great tool for emergent reading skills, reading left to right.
• Although the teacher may begin the year with generic pictures for each activity, as soon as possible the teacher should replace those pictures with actual pictures of the children in the classroom functioning at each scheduled activity.
• The teacher should talk through the schedule on a regular basis, allowing the children to help with the discussion.
• For special needs children, the teacher may want to have duplicate pictures and allow the child to carry the individual picture reminder about the activity they are doing. When a new activity or routine is introduced, the special needs children to receive the new picture. This allows the child to focus on one event at a time.
• The activity word should also be placed by the activity picture. This is another good pre-literacy strategy.
Whether working with special needs children or typically developing children, using a daily visual schedule is an organized way of keeping children on task and giving each child a sense of security because the will know “what comes next.”