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Recently, my 3-year-old’s behavior became an issue, to say the least.
I am currently a stay-at-home/work-at-home mom. The moment my husband and the big kids would head out to work and school, my sweet three-year-old transformed into a defiant, contrary, destructive, and mood-swinging little companion for me for the rest of the morning.
Having two actual teenagers and one tween in the house, it is painfully clear to me why the term “
I have dealt with 3-year-old behavior issues before, of course, given that little O is my fifth kiddo to hit this milestone age. But boy, was this kid on a mission to push mama’s buttons!
It was the same thing every day. I’d suggest things like “Why don’t you play with your cars or your blocks?” “How ’bout we get out your playdough?” “Let’s take out your crayons and you can make Daddy a picture for when he gets home.”
All of these and other appropriate activities were at our disposal every day, but my contrary little
Given the fact that things usually turn around for the better when he is given a job to do, it occurred to me that perhaps he needed to be given a specific activity to do. But not directly from me, of course, since my suggestions were getting us nowhere. I knew we needed a visual schedule.
What is a Visual S
A visual schedule is really just what it sounds like. It is a series of pictures that each represent an event in the daily routine. The pictures are put in the order that the events occur during the day.
A lot of my experience with visual schedules comes from working with preschoolers who have special needs in a classroom setting. Children who have difficulty with transitioning between activities, such as those with ASD, or who have auditory comprehension problems benefit from a visual schedule.
A visual schedule gives kids a tangible, visual way to follow along with the daily schedule. By looking at the visual schedule, they understand what will come next, making it easier to move on to the next activity.
How I Use Visual Schedules At Home
Like many, many things that benefit children who have special needs, visual schedules are also great for typically developing kids. I’ve used visual schedules in the past to help my kids develop good, habitual routines for parts of their day.
For instance, when my oldest daughter started kindergarten, I created a visual schedule for her that walked her through her new morning routine.
get dressed→eat breakfast→brush teeth→do hair→put shoes on
Or when my toddler was rebelling against his bedtime routine. A visual schedule worked wonders.
Using A Visual Schedule For Your 3-Year-Old At Home
In the case of my firecracker of a three-year-old, a visual schedule gave me a way to direct the course of his morning without ME being the one who actually gave him the direction.
The problem with me giving him direction, in case it isn’t obvious, is that he naturally wants to do the opposite of anything I suggest in order to exert his independence. Totally normal, yes, but no doubt a frustration for any parent.
By using a visual schedule, the schedule becomes the thing that is directing the activities, not me.
Map Out Your 3-Year-Old’s Typical Daily Schedule At Home
The first thing I did was take an assessment of the natural course of a typical day for us. Here’s what our typical day looks
These times are rough estimates…I do not follow a strict daily schedule for
|7:00am||Otis wakes up.|
|7:30||Otis stays with Daddy while I take the big kids to bus stops.|
|8:30||O and I take the high schooler to school.|
|9:00-11:00||The holy battle of wits ensues between Otis and I. I attempt to get chores and work done. He attempts to find creative ways to make me lose my cool.|
|11:00||We eat lunch together.|
|1:30 or 2:00pm||He wakes up and has a snack.|
|2:15-3:00||More battles transpire, though usually not as spirited as the morning round.|
|3:00-5:30||The big kids are home from school. We often have orthodontist appointments, school basketball games, or kids to shuttle. If we’re at home, O usually plays outside or in his siblings rooms. Peace & tranquility reign for the most part.|
|6:00||Dinner as a family.|
Identify The Times Of Day That Need More Structure
As you can see, there is a chunk of time in the morning and an hour or so in the afternoon that are our main times for difficult behavior. Your times might be different depending on your daily schedule.
Those are the times I targeted with a visual schedule. Your times will probably be different. Plot out your rough daily schedule at home with your three-year-old and see what chunks of time are really an issue for you.
List The Preschooler Activities You Want To Include
Next, make a list of all the different activities you have available at your home for your three-year-old to do.
I like to keep most of these categories pretty broad so that there is room for some flexibility within the schedule. For example, “art” is one of our activity cards. Art might be watercolor painting, finger painting, drawing, coloring, or doing a craft. “Outside Play” might be climbing on a playset, playing catch, playing in a sandbox, or exploring.
I also included a few essential tasks, like “get dressed” and “eat breakfast” for those days when he needs a little more direction through his morning routine. I will just add those right in the day’s schedule before all the fun stuff.
Our visual schedule pictures include:
|Pretend||Ride Bike||Get Dressed|
|Go For A Walk||Sensory Play||Breakfast|
How To Make Your Visual Schedule Cards
I created my printable visual schedule cards using the free version of Canva. Canva has a lot of free icons, illustrations, and photos available to use.
I simply made a list of all of the preschooler activities we do at home that I wanted to rotate though my 3-year-old’s daily schedule. Then, I searched for those things in Canva.
I like to include the written word beneath the picture since preschoolers are pre-emergent readers. Exposing them to text in association with the visual concept can help them learn to read the word. Canva makes it easy to add the word beneath each picture.
An alternative to printable visual schedule cards is to simply draw your own pictures on some index cards. It really doesn’t have to be fancy or perfect.
Decide Where and How To Display Your 3-Year-Old’s Schedule
You also need a place and method for displaying the schedule for your 3-year-old. Because I’ve worked in elementary schools, I already had a stash of supplies for posting charts and schedules. I use a pocket chart like this one to put my visual schedule cards into. The pocket chart hangs on the side of one of my lower kitchen cabinets using Command Strip hooks that are mounted to the bottom edge of my countertop.
You could easily tape your activity cards to your wall in order, or use a cork board. You can laminate them and add velcro to the back, allowing them to stick to a felt board. Really, there are a bunch of ways to display the schedule and none is better than any other.
The important things are that you place the cards in the order that you want and that the schedule is somewhere low so that your 3-year-old can see it easily.
Time Allotment For The Activities
Make sure you allow for about 15-20 minutes (no more) per activity. Three-year-old attention spans don’t last long, so even the most enthralling activity will likely come to an end after about that much time.
If there’s an activity that your 3-year-old gets very absorbed in and doesn’t want to stop, it is really helpful to set a timer at the start of the activity for 15 or 20 minutes. Then, once the timer goes off, you can say, “OK, it’s time to clean up and put away X so we can move on to Y activity next!”
For my 3-year-old, we use a timer for computer time. It’s a relatively new activity for him and he sits on my lap while we play educational games on pbskids.org together. But I like to limit it to 10 minutes, so we use a timer. It really helps him let go of the activity and move on when the time’s up.
How To Use Your Schedule
The only “set in stone” part of this visual schedule is that there will be a schedule sequence to follow. The point of having a customizable visual schedule is that each day can and should vary.
For instance, if I have a work deadline or home project I’m working on, I will probably fill most of the schedule with things that are mostly self-directed activities once I get him started.
On the other hand, if I do not have much on my own to-do list for the day, I’ll try to incorporate things like “play a game” and “go for a walk” into the schedule, so that I will be more involved in my little guy’s activities. The point is, his schedule is whatever I make it on any given day.
Get your schedule ready the night before, if possible. Look at what’s on your plate for the next day, and decide how much you can participate in a hands-on way in those target hours with your 3-year-old. Choose the activities accordingly.
I like to break up the morning with a couple activities that directly involve me, like reading stories or playing a game. It gives me a break from adulting, and gives my 3-year-old a break from playing on his own.
Curb the Challenging 3-Year-Old Behavior
By establishing a semi-structured part of your three-year-old’s day during your most difficult hours with him or her, you can help keep him or her occupied in a healthy, educational way without having to resort to screen time as a quick fix.
I have found that since implementing the visual schedule with my own 3-year-old, his challenging behavior has improved a ton. He looks forward to his “schedule time” and follows along willingly and cooperatively.
This feels like nothing short of a miracle to me, but the solution was actually so simple!
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Hi there! I am nodding my head hard to all the comments above regarding contrary and defiant behaviour with my sweet “threenager”. I actually hate calling her that. I know this is all developmental and she is just 3 learning more than ever. Especially, independence.
My question for you is how did you introduce the visual schedule board? I think anything I introduce will be protested.
Natalie Clausen says
Oh boy, I hear you about everything and anything being protested. I actually treated it as a “big kid” privilege. It helps that he has older siblings and cousins to “aspire to.” So I told him that a schedule is something big kids have at school (true) and because he is getting to be bigger and more responsible, we get to start trying it at our house. If we happen to have a really bad day and he’s being 100% uncooperative, I put the schedule away and keep it away. “It’s just for big kids.” Hope that helps!
At the age of three, it’s really difficult. But chore chart is really work.
I’ve been trying to implement a visual schedule for my spirited 3 year old and this is exactly like I was envisioning. I’ve downloaded the Canva app but cannot, for the life of me, figure out how to make cards like you did, or what you searched for to get the free, cartoon style images. Do you have a detailed instruction on how to make those cards?
I’m planning on using a frameless wall clock, pasting an arrow on the hour hand, and using the cards in place of the clock number so my toddler can tell when it’s time for a new activity and what that activity is!