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Why are Visual Timetables so Important?

A visual timetable is a series of labelled photographs, images or symbols used to represent the daily activities or events in your setting and the sequence in which they occur. They are often used for children with SEND, but they can work well with all children, especially Early Years.

Why use a visual timetable?

The advantages of visual timetables are numerous:

  • Clear indicators of when an activity is starting or finishing helps children understand and get used to the routine of the day
  • Showing a child that an activity they enjoy is scheduled for later in the day can improve motivation and behaviour when faced with an activity the child doesn’t enjoy.
  • Tasks such as updating the timetable or choosing what activities to schedule encourages responsibility and autonomy in children.
  • Knowing what’s coming next can help reduce anxiety in children.
  • For younger Early Years or children with language difficulties, visual cues can help children better process the order of the day.
  • For children with English as an additional language, images and symbols can help breach the initial language barrier.
  • Familiarity with the visual representation of an activity or event along with one- or two-word names (e.g. ‘painting’ or ‘home time’) helps children become more familiar with words and letters.
  • Seeing a visual representation of the structure of the day can help with memory and recall skills for children who don’t yet have an adequate grasp of verbal language.
Photo by Stephen Andrews on Unsplash

How does a visual timetable work?

There are many different approaches to visual timetables. For example, some show the full day or week of activities, some show just that day’s morning or afternoon and some are simply displayed as ‘now’ and ‘next’. Some timetables use photographs of Early Years themselves carrying out activities. This is useful for making sure the images are easily recognisable and helping the children feel more involved. Some use simple illustrations of activities while others use symbols recognised in other school settings to aid children’s transition to the next school year.

Image from Create Visual Aids

How best can I use a visual timetable?

To ensure a visual timetable is effective, it is important for practitioners to refer to it regularly and for the images to reference specific items around the room. For example, if an image is used to represent painting, that same symbol should be displayed on the box of paints. This enables children to make the visual association. Referencing the timetable should be simple, with the practitioner indicating the image for each event and clearly saying the name. This will facilitate children making the connection between the image, spoken word and activity. For younger EY children, it is difficult to make the connection between the word/symbol and meaning without the practical experience. This is why emphasising the link with the word and symbol during an activity or event is essential.

How do I get a visual timetable for my setting?

If you’re thinking of implementing a visual timetable in your Early Years setting, there are a few options. You could follow That Nursery Life’s Create a Visual Timetable! activity plan or visit Creative Visual Aids for a pre-made pack.

Do you have a visual timetable in your Early Years setting? We’d love to hear how it works for your children. Get in touch on our socials!