development language parenting preschooler toddler

Visual Picture and Chore Charts for Toddlers and Preschoolers

chore chart, visual picture schedule, visual routine chart for toddlers, preschoolers, children with autism

For some reason, the end of summer always feels like the beginning of something big.  Perhaps it's because of all my years in public education, but August is like my New Year's Eve.  As a matter of fact, I get more excited to break out the office supplies, order my favorite erasable pens (seriously, I should own stock in this company since I buy them in bulk -- if you fear ink commitment like I do, you are going to want to check these* out), and crack out my new planner than I do planning an participating in New Year's festivities.  Yes, I'm an office supply dork.

So what does this have to do with toddlers you may be asking?  Well, I think that barrage of back to school ads has many parents feeling the pinch to try to find ways to streamline their days and routines.  Having a smooth running routine makes for happier parents and happier kids, so today I want to discuss one of my favorite tools:  visual picture and chore charts.

You may be thinking 'charts and schedules for 2 and 3 year olds?'  Yup.  As a long time early childhood educator, I've seen the many benefits of using of visual images with young children.  Utilizing picture programs:

  • Helps young children understand what is coming next making transitions easier.  Let's be honest, young kids aren't great listeners.  You can tell them until you are blue in the face that you will play outside AFTER dinner, but they just don't seem to get it!  Seeing is believing for many young kids...
  • Helps with predictability.  Visual schedules set up a clear routine to the day.  It helps young children 'first this, then that' which is an important concept that will come in handy when they go to school.
  • Can reduce anxiety.  Not knowing what comes next can make some kids anxious.  Some kids can also get 'stuck' for lack of a better word.  For example, when I was the social work support for a special education preschool program, there was a three year old who was on the autism spectrum.  He often felt anxious upon arrival at school and wanted immediately to go to the gym.  Using a picture schedule helped him to understand 1) that we WOULD be going to the gym and 2) what needed to happen first, e.g., breakfast, free play, etc.  He would go over to the visual schedule that was posted on the board frequently to check and see what was left to do before we were able to go to his favorite place.  Trying to explain it to him was not helpful.  Showing him the schedule calmed him immediately.  
  • Supports early literacy.  Charts need to be read like a book and involve imagery and text (albeit limited for young children) so it makes sense that visual charts would aid in early literacy.  In addition, the concept of 'first this, then that' further aids in this process. Think about reading a story:  first this happens, then that happens...tada, you are working on comprehension.
  • Teaches responsibility and planning.  Using visual systems helps little ones begin to understand steps and sequences which ultimately helps in the development of executive thinking skills.  For example, doing a chart of the tasks need to successfully go to the bathroom for a toddler or preschooler allows them to understand each step, how they work together and provides many opportunities for repetition enhancing learning.
  • Teaches independence.  Our ultimate goal as parents should be to foster and develop independence in our children providing them with as many tools for success along the way.  Imagine this:  you implement a chore chart with your preschooler.  After several weeks of use, you need only redirect your preschooler to look at his chore list.  Several weeks later, he is doing the chores on auto pilot.  I know you don't believe me but it is possible!
  • Builds self-esteem.  Children who develop independent skills and successfully complete tasks have high self-esteem and confidence.  Who doesn't want that for their kid?!
  • Helps with language comprehension and listening skills.   As I mentioned earlier, seeing is believing.  Not only that, it is one of the BEST ways to work on language comprehension and listening skills with young children.  I often tell parents that 93% of communication is tone of voice and body language.  Only 7% is our actual vocabulary!  Pointing to pictures on a schedule helps build understanding, focus, attention, and listening.  When working on listening with little ones, I always talk to parents about the prompting system:  1. Help me (using a physical prompt); 2. Show me (using a visual cue) and 3. Tell me (using a verbal direction only).  A lot of parents jump right to #3 with their tots and get frustrated when 'they don't listen.'  We need to start with where they are at following this prompting sequence -- visuals add greatly to the learning.  You can learn more about getting young children to listen by checking out this YouTube video.
  • Helps prepare young children for more structured learning environments such as daycare centers and preschool.  If you've ever stepped into a preschool classroom, you have undoubtedly seen a visual picture schedule.  The preschool teachers I worked with referenced their schedule FREQUENTLY during the class time and it made a huge difference in the flow of the day.  Starting a similar process at home will help your little as they transition to more structured learning environments.  

We also know that young children learn best when:

  • Images and documents are clean, crisp and uncluttered
  • Resources use color images on white backgrounds
  • LESS is MORE when it comes to toddlers and preschoolers!

So there are LOTS of easy, crafty ways to make a visual schedule or chore chart for your child.  For those crafty moms out there, here's your excuse to head to the office supply store -- yay!  As you get your creative juice flowing, just keep in mind my aforementioned recommendation: keep it simple.  Colorful charts with lots of words, stickers and images are going to make it more difficult for your little one to understand.  Keep the end goal in sight:  practicality over looks.

For those of you who just want something that is already done, you can purchase my visual system over at my Etsy shop here.  Let me be up front:  it is not super jazzy looking.   I know you are tired of hearing it, but less, truly is more. Did you know that young children's brains can only process about five pieces of information at a time?   One simple, colorful picture on a white background with limited print is the best way to help them learn.  Too much color and imagery makes it difficult for them to concentrate and focus on what is really important.  Let's remember that 20/20 vision is not usually in completed until three to five years of age.  It takes a lot of coordination to control the eyes to be able to identify individual objects, features and letters.  

My visual system is designed to grow with your child and can be used for a variety of purposes:

  • A Visual Routine Chart:  You can use it to outline your activities for the entire day or different times of the day, e.g., morning, afternoon, bedtime.  Choose from a variety of activities and routines changing it up depending on the day.  I know when I was looking for a routine chart for my kids back in the day, there were always one or two things on it that didn't fit with our routine.  I made my system in a manner that allows you to swap out activities based on what works best for you, your child and your schedule.
  • A Chore Chart:  As your child learns and grows, having them help out with simple chores is a great way to build self-esteem and prepare them for adulthood.  I am a FIRM believer that children should have chores AND that they shouldn't get paid for them.  Kids need to learn that sometimes we have things we need to do every day that we don't like, but it still needs to be done.  Helping them understand this from a young age is going to have long reaching benefits, trust me.  More on chores in a different post... There are a variety of simple tasks and activity cards included in my visual system that can be incorporated in a chore chart, e.g, make your bed, fed the dog, etc.  Take advantage of the fact that young child LIKE to help (because that won't last long!).
  • A Choice System:  Giving choices to young children is an amazing strategy that can help reduce tantrums, meltdowns and power struggles.  BONUS:  It can also help with language and learning because of the multiple opportunities for repetition.  As you plan for your day, include your child offering them choices such as "Do you want to go outside or do water play?"  "Do you want to play with your cars or your blocks?"  Sharing control with young children throughout the day helps build self-esteem and confidence.

The system includes several blank 'cards' so that you can make your own additions based on your schedule or household chores.  And, because you have the pdf download, you can print as many times as needed.  I've included a tip sheet with suggestions on how to use the system.

So, in conclusion, utilizing a visual picture chart or chore chart with your child can have SO many benefits!  Whether you purchase mine or decide to create your own, I hope that you do give it a try...your child and his/her future teachers will thank you for it!

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