Why Use Visuals?
Visual aids can be very helpful to use with young children, especially when their language ability is limited by developmental age or intrinsic delays. Visuals can help you:
- teach routines and rules
- step back from always issuing ‘orders’
- alert your child that something ‘different’ is going to happen
- avoid conflict
In this post we’ll discuss 3 ways you can use images to teach routines, reinforce rules or directions and defuse potential conflicts with your child. We’ll also learn how easy it is to incorporate the use of visuals into your everyday activities.
Like any new habit, success comes when you start small. Don’t try to use too many visuals at one time, or for multiple routines. If you do, you’re more likely to become overwhelmed and fail. Of the suggestions in this post, choose one to try, and get comfortable with that one over a few weeks before you add another. Perhaps you’ll choose a visual strategy for a particularly troublesome daily routine (going to bed, getting ready for school). Using visuals in those situations can make a big difference in encouraging more calm and less stress. Visuals can become a bridge between you and your child, establishing a little bit of distance between the two of you that interrupts the negative emotions you feel (and that they may feel as well). A few of those situations might be:
- when you want your child to do something at a stressful time of day (before work, before heading to school)
- when your child is still learning to complete a routine or task
- or when your child simply doesn’t want to complete the routine as much as you want them to!
Routines are often troublesome because you need to complete them before you can do something important, and when there’s a limited amount of time to get them done. You have to get dressed and coat and shoes on so you aren’t late getting them to school. You need to get them to bed at a reasonable hour so you can get a break and so they can be rested in the morning. Both are important!
You may have trouble with more than one routine (getting teeth brushed before bed, and getting out the door in the morning), but choose only one routine or task to work on at a time. That way you’ll both have greater success and less frustration. It takes time and patience to learn a new skill. Remember, this is new for both of you!
Visuals At School and At Home
In every school district and many preschools teachers use visuals to help them lead their students through the routines of the day. They use visuals to:
- display the activities of the day and what is coming next (a series of pictures showing: hang up coats, play with table activities, sit at Group Time, go to activity centers, have snack, etc.)
- teach the alphabet or words, and the calendar
- teach concepts
At home you can learn how to use pictures during your troublesome routines and in order to teach new routines. You don’t have to buy a fancy software program or be a good artist in order to use pictures. Children are very forgiving when it comes to pictures! You can use pictures from:
- photos you’ve taken
- downloadable images and clip art from the internet (If you have access to Microsoft Word or Google Docs you can search for images, then print them out to use in your visuals)
- stick figures you draw on Post-it’s TM
Choosing Pictures to Use with Your Child
If you have access to a printer, choosing pictures on the internet and printing them out isn’t too hard. Think about what you want to teach. For example, if the bedtime routine is difficult, choose pictures of the series of steps in your night time routine. A typical routine might go:
- Bath time (picture of bath tub)
- Pajamas (picture of pajamas)
- Tooth Brushing (child brushing teeth, or simply a picture of a tooth brush)
- Story time (picture of book)
- Go to sleep (bed)
How big should the pictures be? It’s your preference, but a nice size is about 2″ x 2″ . That way they’re big enough to see and small enough to place on a strip of poster board or construction paper in the correct order. The strip can be carried as you go through the steps with your child, and is small enough to post on the wall or door so you can refer to it if your child gets ‘stuck’ or needs a reminder to go to the next step. I prefer to search for “clipart” (bath tub clipart, or pajamas clipart) because the pictures are usually simpler and easier to see.
** HINT ** Try to only look at the first several pictures that come up in your search. They’re usually the best matches and your search might result in HUNDREDS of matches that could take forever to review.
Here are examples of pictures I downloaded from the internet. I had to make all of them smaller because most of them could have taken up an entire sheet of copy paper. When you get ready to print the pictures preview what you’re going to print so that you don’t print too large. If 5-6 pictures fit on the page, they’re probably going to be a good size.
Notice that they’re not in the correct order (taking a bath comes first in the routine!). But it doesn’t matter, as I cut them out to place on the strip. AND I made 2 copies of the pictures, in case I messed up this set. In my case, it was a good thing I did. More on that later.
As you go through this explanation of how to make a picture strip you’ll find that it is not perfect. Please remember:
Perfection is the enemy of progress.
If that isn’t a famous quote, it should be. It’s so easy to fall into the trap that you can’t do something new and different because
- it won’t be perfect,
- it won’t look good,
- you aren’t an expert at it
Try to remember that nothing is ever perfect, you’re probably not good at a lot of things (but you are at others!) and your child doesn’t need an expert, just a loving mom who is trying to help.
NEXT, I cut out the pictures. You can use a ruler and pencil to make straight lines, but I just cut them out into squares, so that they were all roughly the same size. I didn’t have any poster board available, so I used a blank file folder, used a glue stick to afix them to the folder in a line, then cut the folder under the pictures, making a long strip. It didn’t bother me that there is a fold in the middle. If I had used poster board there would have been no fold.
Here’s the picture strip I made from them to teach the bedtime routine.
The last step is to protect the pictures and strip so that they last. If you have a laminator or access to one, that would be the easiest way to preserve the strip. You can get items laminated for a fee at office supply stores like Staples.
Another way to preserve your strip is to use clear Contact TM paper. This will make it last a long time (or as long as little hands don’t try to twist it up !). If you do decide to go the Contact TM paper route, BE SURE TO PLACE THE PICTURES FACE DOWN on the sticky side, THEN fold more Contact TM paper over the back side of the strip. That way if the Contact TM paper wrinkles – as it is prone to do – the wrinkles won’t be on your pictures. (See photos)