Picture schedules are a fantastic way to organize your session.

Here are five ways picture schedules are working for me in my music therapy sessions with children with special needs:

1. Picture schedules let children know what the session will look like and what is coming up next.

Picture schedules provide organization and structure to your session. They allow children to see what the session will look like. Are we playing the gathering drum today? Are we writing  a song? The children love to see if any “surprises” are coming up (for example holiday pictures like a pumpkin for Halloween or Santa for Christmas)!

2. Picture schedules allow for flexibility.

Picture schedules also allow for flexibility within the session. My pictures are velcroed on a laminated paper, so they can be moved around if I need to make adjustments throughout the session. I can also give a child the opportunity to choose what they would like to do next in the session (“Would you like to play instruments next or read a book book next? Choose one picture.”)

3. Picture schedules encourage participation and direction following.

Before each activity I prompt the children in the group to raise their hands quietly (if they need to work on that skill) or to raise their hands and say “Me!” (if they need to work on 1-word utterances). They must follow the directions I give to the class. This also works on impulse control, as the children must wait their turn to be called to come up and pull the next picture off the session schedule.

4. Picture schedules provide multiple opportunities for encouraging expressive language.

After the child pulls the picture off the schedule, they must label the picture (“book,” “read a book,” or “We’re going to read a book” for example, depending on the level of the child.) This provides opportunities to meet their expressive language goals and targets objectives such as:

– Verbally identifying a picture
– Using 1-2 word utterances
– Using 3-4 word utterances
– Speaking a complete sentence

5. Picture schedules are multisensory.

I know many people are moving to the ipad for picture schedules, etc. But, I like a good ol’ laminated picture schedule because it is multisensory. You can use brightly colored pictures (I use pictures from Google images and West music). You also give the child the opportunity to reach out, grasp a picture and pull it off the schedule (our occupational therapists love this!) There is soft velcro on the picture board and rough velcro on the back of each picture. Multisensory!

So, as you can see, I am a huge fan of the picture schedule for the organization AND the flexibility it provides. Join the discussion: do YOU use a picture schedule in your sessions? Why or why not?