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Visual Schedules and Checklists

Originally published:

child with clipboard

Grown-ups often use a daily calendar or checklists to remind them of their meetings and tasks. Children also benefit from simple schedules or checklists. For example, most children like to know their daily routine and whether something different is planned. Teachers of young children have found picture sequences of the day to be helpful for children who are English language learners and for children with limited language abilities. A picture schedule can show arrival (hanging jackets in a cubby), free play (a sample of toys and activities), cleanup (putting things on shelves), washup and bathroom (handwashing, toilets), snack (sample food), and outdoor play (outside equipment).

Teachers and parents can review the schedule at the start of the day or at each change in activities. They can remind children of what comes next and that tomorrow they will have a chance to continue with an activity that needs to end today (“Tomorrow you can build a tower again”).

Very simple checklists with three or four topics also can be useful with children who are getting ready for kindergarten. The checklist might be for completion of certain activities or for showing “good behavior.” If a child doesn’t participate in cleaning up or washing up or joining a specific activity (large group), then the child and teacher can make a daily checklist to mark effort. The teacher can guide the child in monitoring if she helped during cleanup and either give the check mark or let the child make the check. If the child’s participation improves over time, the teacher can let the child monitor her participation and complete the check, with occasional feedback on “good cleanup” and “you showed me you can clean up and mark your checklist!”

To help a child follow a schedule or use a checklist, teachers or parents may want to help the child identify preferred activities. If the child shows improvement in behavior, they may earn privileges or choices in their day. For example, a child may have first choice of free-play materials or computer time. As the activities become routine for the child, the supports of checklist or photos can be removed or no longer discussed as much.

Using schedules or checklists are supports for children who benefit from knowing the routine and self-assessing their ability to follow the routine and typical expectations. These are skills that can help children make sense of their day, predict their routines, and increase their independence.

Susan Fowler

Susan Fowler

Dr. Susan Fowler is a retired professor of special education at the University of Illinois. Susan’s doctorate was in developmental and child psychology and she was one of the pioneers in early childhood special education and developmental disabilities. She also is a parent of a young man with exceptionalities.

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Reviewed: 2022