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Today I want to talk about something we used to talk about a lot in but has kind of shifted over mainly to my Brain Skills Play Blueprint Inner Circle group- and that’s VISUALS.
A quick informal poll- how many of you have a smartphone that you use to remind you to do things and has a calendar in it that you put important events into? How many of you have a paper planner that you use to keep track of everyone’s schedules? Or a wall calendar? Or maybe you’re like me and have post-it notes stuck around the house in random places with notes to yourself on them? If you use any of those systems, I want you to fess up in the comments. Tell me what you use. I, personally, have a super split personality when it comes to this stuff- I do have my phone, and a paper planner- just started my 2019 one, and I have a massive wall calendar here in my office- plus, as I said- my house is where post-it notes go to die. I have them everywhere. So it’s fair to say that I have a lot of things to remember and I don’t remember them all off the top of my head. I remember very little off the top of my head- I’m a mom, my brain is mush. But when it comes to little kids- we expect them to remember A LOT OF SHIT OFF THE TOP OF THEIR LITTLE HEADS. I have jeans that are older than my son and I’m expecting him to remember everything he has to do to be ready for school in the morning, all the things he needs to do in the bathroom, what order to put all his snow gear on, all the things he needs to make sure he has before he leaves school to come home, all the things he needs to do when he comes home, all the steps to getting ready for bed- and a lot more. Each of those routines has at least 4 steps to them. I can’t remember the steps to making popcorn- I have a post-it with the instructions for that taped to the cabinet that holds our microwave… but I’m expecting him- at age 4/5 to remember all of those things unprompted?! Or my 2-year-old to remember all the steps to clearing his place at the end of a meal? He’s 2- he’s legitimately still a baby. Personally, I consider anyone under the age of 6 a baby but at 2 he is a baby by anyone’s definition. It doesn’t matter that they do these things every day- I make popcorn every day- but I still can’t remember if I need to put it in for 3 minutes or 4 or if the butter goes in with the kernels or after I take it out for the best buttery results. So what’s the solution here? Because kids under age 6 can’t read. Once they’re getting into 4/5 they may be starting to latch on to some random sight words depending on if they’re interested or not- but for the most part, they can’t read. You can’t give them a list of things to do! Or can you?
Our visual for getting ready for school has a little picture for every single step my son needs to do. Kids can’t read words, but they are extremely adept at reading images. Especially when those images are repeated and have an assigned meaning. So my son’s visual checklist, when he’s done a step, he closes it and moves on to the next thing. We visuals in the bathroom with all the steps to using the bathroom from pushing your pants down to drying your hands when you leave. We have ones by the door that reminds them what order to put their outdoor gear on in- we live in Canada, it’s bloody cold here, they have snowboots and snowsuits and hats and mitts and neckwarmers to put on and most of it has to go on in a very specific order or you end up having to strip off and start again. My oldest has a laminated sheet in his backpack with a list of everything he needs to bring home from school every day- including all those hats and mitts and neckwarmers. We’ve lost one hat so far this winter! That’s it! Which is pretty darn good for a newly minted 5-year-old.
They’re little. And we hold them to a standard we hold absolutely nobody else to. That’s not fair. And it’s frustrating for everyone- little kids don’t enjoy forgetting the 14th step to getting ready for bed and getting yelled at and more than we enjoy having to nag them to get going. Visual support children in literally every area of executive functioning. Self-monitoring is the big one obviously, but also flexible thinking, impulse control, emotional control, working memory, task initiation, organization and planning and prioritizing. Literally, all eight areas are supported by visuals- which is why in my Brain Skills Play Blueprint membership there is an entire 12-video course that breaks down all the different kinds of visuals, their uses, and how to make them using several different software programs. It’s just one of the bonuses that’s in there but it is by far the most popular because it’s an area we so overlook for children. And it’s something I’m really passionate about because the only time you hear about visuals is when we’re talking about kids with special needs- usually autism. That is where I learned about visuals while being a Developmental Specialist and doing early intervention. And I’ve also had the experience of being in a meeting with a preschool teacher, a parent of a child with special needs, myself, and irate parents of typical children who are furious that visuals are being used in the classroom because quote unquote their “kid is normal, they don’t need these.” There are very few times in my professional career where I’ve sincerely wanted to level someone, but whenever I have it’s been in one of those meetings. There are children who very literally rely on visuals to do 100% of their communication. And then there are extremely typical kids who barely need them at all. But no matter where your child lands on that spectrum- the visuals are still helpful. They’re still a positive thing. And if one person sees this video and even if you don’t rush out and implement visuals in your home, if it just stops you from being that irate parent scoffing at them- then this has done its job.
But by implementing visuals, you not only give your child all the executive functioning benefits but you also habituate them to using visuals so when- and I do mean when, since inclusion is becoming so much more prevalent, most of our children will be in a classroom with a child with special needs during their academic career- when they meet a child who needs the visuals, they’ll already know how to use them and be automatically for that child. And you’ll be an automatically to their parents. Visuals benefit everyone they are not just for kids with special needs.
So I have a little present for Y’all! To help you hop on the visuals train I’ve gone ahead and made you just a simple daily schedule. It’s super general so it’ll work for as many people as possible, but hopefully, it’ll help you see just how effective even super simple visuals can be with little kids. So you can grab that at the link in the description of this video and I will email it to you!