Visual timetables: supporting children’s learning and behaviour

Using visual timetables and other visual supports can assist children a number of different ways, either individually or as a part of a whole group routine. Like anything, to be effective, you need to involve the children in the use of the timetable.



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What are visual timetables?

A visual timetable or timeline is a visual representation of a task or a child’s schedule through the day.

They often use images, symbols and photos to better communicate a task or activity. In the workplace and at home we already use them in different forms, for example, wall mounted boards or planners. The wide availability of smartphones and modern tablets makes it possible to make the visual schedule interactive with:

  • Keep track of tasks by checking off completed items

  • Notifications of tasks by alarms, sound and vibration

  • Provide visual countdown timers to keep on track

  • Provide spoken texts for people who have difficulty with reading

  • Help keep focus on the task at hand

Why are they useful for children?

Visual timetables can be a crucial tool in helping all children follow their routines throughout their day.  A daily schedule can also help young children connect the real and the abstract - what I am doing now compared to what I might do after lunch and allows prepositional language to be used in meaningful ways - first, next, before, after.


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They are perfect for introducing new routines, rules and procedures at the beginning of the school year. They are specifically useful with children who find transitions difficult, have specific learning difficulties or are anxious about change. Anxiety is one of the biggest factors that trigger difficult behaviour and reduced access to the curriculum.

Children with specific language or processing difficulties find it much harder to remember what they have heard than other children. Visual support strategies such as visual timelines allow children more time to process information.

Autistic children are often (but not always) visual learners, Temple Grandin describes her own experience:

      “I think in pictures. Words are like a second language to me. I translate both spoken and written words into full-colour movies, complete with sound, which run like a VCR tape in my head. When someone speaks to me, his words are instantly translated into pictures.”

So for these children, visual timelines can build on their strengths. Other children, sometimes those with dyslexia have visual strengths so they also benefit from visual support.


How can visual timelines be helpful?

They can support children’s learning because they:

  • are stable over time

  • are relevant and meaningful to the child

  • attract and hold attention

  • reduce anxiety

  • make concepts more concrete, e.g. before, after, morning, afternoon, first, next

  • can be used as prompts

  • model what is important in a task

  • communicate things that cannot otherwise be understood


Visual timetables can certainly help children get through activities they find more difficult. This is usually achieved by using a motivating activity to follow a more demanding activity. It therefore acts as an incentive to help children get through tougher challenges.

An additional positive aspect of using a visual schedule is that it can increase a child’s independence. They can learn to move from one activity to another using the schedule rather than relying on someone else to lead them or verbally prompt them to the next activity. This helps build self-management and independence skills.


If you would like some ideas about setting up a visual timetable at home for your child, you may like to check out some of the websites before or come and talk with Mrs Burch at school for some help with this.


Keywords: visual timetables, routines, student agency, independence, behaviour, learning

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