Knowing what to expect helps kids (and adults!) prepare and cope more effectively for emotional and sensory experiences that might overwhelm them. I’d read about this, but was skeptical of how big an impact it could have. But after seeing how a simple, quickly drawn visual schedule helped Edmund transition through the end of his occupational therapy evaluation, I immediately sought to include it in our lives. Several hours of Pinterest later, I created my visual schedule 1.0. (For more about why these types of visual schedules work well, check out this post.)
For our living situation and lifestyle, portability was key. We have 2 living and playing areas in our multi-generational house (“ours” and “main/grandparents'”), so there is not a central location to post permanently. I also wanted it to be flexible since we didn’t know what would work best for Edmund, and because life happens anyway. Finally, I didn’t want it to be overwhelmingly long, so I identified times of day that always followed the same progression (i.e. bedtime). I included those as categories instead of listing each thing.
I landed upon making pieces that were individual & interchangeable for daily activities. For example, a standard day might include the pieces for morning routine, outside play, chores, tablet time for ABCMouse.com, lunch, afternoon PreK, and nighttime routine (which includes dinner and bedtime). On the reverse of each activity was the word “done” so they could be flipped over upon completion. Edmund loved flipping them over himself and yelling, “Boom! Done!” Also, flipping them reduced the number of things Edmund had to think about as the day wore on. Unintentional bonus!
For morning, afternoon, and nighttime routines, I identified the 5 major activities for each and made separate flip charts. During those periods of intense, sequential activities, he had even less “visual noise” to pay attention to. This reduced the amount of possible stressors that he had to consider, making it easier to complete the tasks at hand. If he was having a particularly stressful time, I would also be able to reveal only the item he needed to work on. Then we’d close that one and open the next. These are simple patterned card stock & magnet tape.
The functioning schedule/routine/agenda (whatever you want to call it!) “lives” inside of a plastic storage clipboard. That fully contains all the pieces so that they are safe from the elements, as well as from damage that might come about from it going everywhere that we do. Mine has a pocket where I keep the flip charts for the morning, afternoon, and nighttime routines.
I keep all the remaining pieces on a magnetic dry erase board in my room, with the goal that the next day’s plan is constructed at bedtime. This happens about half of the time – if he’s already overwhelmed at bedtime, I don’t add the next day’s agenda to the things he might stress about. On those nights, we just do it the next morning instead.
Edmund loves the system overall. On low-key, low-stress days, we might only review it in the morning or not at all. We rely on it much more heavily on high-stress days, frequently going back to review it. If he’s saying that he doesn’t want to do something, I show him that it’s the next item on the agenda and he usually rolls right along with it.
What follows is my process for making these. It might not work for you – but it also might save you some time and money if you want to duplicate what I’ve made!
For my first run I tried a dollar store cookie sheet, with different activities written & illustrated on oversized popsicle sticks. The popsicle sticks had magnet tape on the ends (both sides) and could be flipped to say “done!” once an activity was completed. The idea worked well, except if the cookie sheet got jostled (everything would fall off) or if it were raining/snowing (the marker would run on the popsicle sticks and/or the popsicle sticks warped from moisture on trips in/out of the car).
Version 2.0 was laminated strips of card stock, but with the same basic design. I used a heavy duty quick-setting epoxy called JB Weld to glue steel flashing (like the kind you’d use on a roof) to the inside of a plastic storage clipboard. This kept the pieces safe & secure from the elements as well as loss! If you use this method, make sure you sand the inside of the clipboard because the epoxy sticks better on a rough surface than a smooth one. Also mix the epoxy very thoroughly or it won’t set properly. AND I needed to buy special snips to cut the steel to the right size while wearing gloves to protect my hands from tiny scratches. This might seem like a lot of effort – but it’s lived through 3 months of near constant usage and virtually zero signs of wear and tear!
Below you’ll find a list of the activities that I included. However, I also included a few that say “done!” on the back but are empty on the front. Then we can easily accommodate something unusual or seasonal into our day with the help of a wet erase marker!
- Afternoon Routine
- Clip Nails
- Eye Doctor
- Grocery Shopping
- Morning Routine
- Nighttime Routine
- Pick Up Nana/Pick Up Daddy (from when we were sharing a car)
- Play Downstairs
- Play Outside
- Play Upstairs
- Play with Friends
- Playtime Doctor (what he calls occupational therapy)
- Shows (TV)
- Tablet (ABC Mouse & Todo Math)
- Travel (for extended times in the car, not every car trip)
- Woods (we live on 3 acres and like exploring)
- 3 “Blanks”