Incorporating a visual schedule was never something I did during my individual speech therapy sessions, simply because I wasn’t sure where to start or how to motivate my kids to follow a schedule after we hadn’t been using one before. I didn’t know how to implement a new system after my kids had been used to doing things one way. Then, one day, I saw a paper tray for a dollar at Target and I thought… I can use this for something. Organization became labeling which became my new visual schedule. It has been a GAME. CHANGER. Turns out, my kids (and I’m sure many others) thrive on structure. I am so proud of how independent they’ve become with the schedule. Not only does it make my sessions easier and more structured, it also helps my kids develop a sense of responsibility for their time and their work. They begin to learn the concept of time management and what is my choice and what is their choice. I also think they feel proud of themselves when they complete the schedule. Do I use this with every child? Nope. I see some kids who are very young (some are two years old) who do a lot of play therapy and don’t need or benefit from a schedule at this time. I also see some older teenagers who do not need or want a visual schedule, and that’s okay. But, still, I have to say that my visual schedule has completely changed my sessions and planning for the better, and I want to share that with you.
First, it’s important you understand what my sessions look like. I am in a pediatric clinic and see kids for 30 minute sessions or hour sessions, depending on insurance. I try to target three goals per session. I see kids one-on-one and work with kids ages 2 years through 16 years. But, prior to working in a pediatric clinic, I worked in the schools for years and have experience working in groups, and this should still be able to work!
To create my schedule, I bought an inexpensive paper tray. My schedule is attached to the paper tray with the corresponding items inside the tray to match the icons on the schedule. All of the icons I use are vague and can be used for several activities (i.e. The “pictures” icon can be used for articulation cards, emotions, picture scenes, etc.). This is so that I don’t have to constantly print new schedule cards for every student/session. The only icons I put on their schedule are those that I choose. This means that I don’t put “free play” or “break” on the schedule. I let my students know that once they finish all of the icons, they can choose what they want to play with. I also talk with them about time management (in simpler terms). I let them know that they have to finish the items on the box before we play. So, if we aren’t participating in an activity and we don’t finish it, that means that we can’t have free choice. This allows for natural consequences in speech rather than any type of punishment or taking away of an item or reinforcer.
I have my schedule stuck to the box when my kids come in. As we finish each activity, I take off the icon and show them that I am putting it away. I store the extra icons on the side of the box for easy storage. Some of my kids like to take off the icons and put them away themselves, which encourages independence and helps them attend to each task. When we are done, I ALWAYS show the students the box and ask, “Is there anything left?” They are all used to this routine by now and shout “NO!” as soon as I ask. I always give them a high five afterward and then they run and pick out a toy or game.
One reason that I love using this visual schedule is that it makes things so much more concrete. We don’t have a power struggle or a debate about free play or activities we have to do. If we don’t earn our free play, they know exactly why and it has nothing to do with any type of punishment.
I want to note that I do also do play activities during our scheduled activities. I use my sensory bin icon A LOT which the kids love. I also frequently use the craft icon and the dot marker icon. These are pretty unstructured, but still allow us to target our goals through play and art while still understanding our schedule.
I won’t lie, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to stick with it or that my kids wouldn’t like it. But they took to it so well! The important thing is to stay consistent. It’s also important to realize that all of our kids are different and this will not work for everyone. Customize your schedule to your needs, but don’t be afraid to try! It may be a game changer for you like it has been for me!
Here’s a link (CLICK HERE!) to the visuals shown in the pictures. They’re simple, non-specific, and work for a lot of activities. The last page is editable so you can add your own text and images! Enjoy!