Parenting Preschoolers: A Picture Plan

by Kari on May 18, 2011


Don’t you just love when you find something that works?!  Perhaps you’re like me and you’re so used to trial and error that when something becomes trial and success you pinch yourself–Yes!

After sharing about my difficult Easter Sunday I received a lot of helpful advice. It was clear that part of what created the massive meltdown was a triple threat of terror for tots: 1) Being sick, 2) Change of routine without notice, and 3) Raised expectations without notice.  All those three things came into play that day and the result wasn’t pretty.  I learned my lesson about taking kids to church when they don’t feel well, and learned my lesson about having unspoken expectations of my kids that aren’t clearly communicated. But #2 was the one that I really saw as the kicker, and every day since I’ve seen how this plays out in our home.

The reality is I have a 4-year-old who has an aversion to change. So whenever I suggest something (anything!) or lead us into a transition there is constant resistance. So I found myself irritated, annoyed, and could feel myself tense up in even approaching transitions, because I knew there would be a battle.

So a schoolteacher friend of mine suggested making a Picture Plan. It totally made sense. Since Dutch can’t read my schedule for the day, he has no way of mentally preparing himself for transition. Sure I can tell him, but if you know 4-year-olds you know how long they’ll remember that — about 30 seconds.

So we started in the morning making a Picture Plan. Simple really. I write out the 8-10 main events of the day, while he’s watching so he can help create our plan, and draw a picture of each one next to it.  For example:


Ok, pretty simple and insignificant, right?

He loves it. It’s life-changing.

He got so excited the first day, as he looked through all the pictures.  We’d keep checking back on the Picture Plan all day so he could see what’s next and anticipate the change.  Results?

Amazing. Sometimes he’d even come find the Picture Plan and hold it up, showing me what we were going to do next. Even on the day that I was off studying and Jeff was home, Jeff created the picture plan (pictured above you can see his beautiful artwork) and it worked like a charm again.  Plus, it gives the kids a chance to each pick one thing to put on the Picture Plan for the day.

The kicker? Yesterday there was one point where we actually got through all of our activities but still had some time before rest. So I said the kids could do some more playing outside if they wanted. Dutch responds,  “But Mommy, it says we were having our rest next.”  Ummm…. Ok! Can you tell how much this has helped my dear little boy?!  Of course sometimes a welcome change is great, like today since our house is showing I let the kids watch Toy Story. But before I did I drew it in onto our Picture Plan so they could see how it fit into the whole scheme of the day.


I’m so thankful for my dear friend (who doesn’t even have her own kids but who has “raised” hundreds of kids in the classroom!) who gave this advice. It was obviously an answer to prayer.

Do you have a little one (or a big one!) who has a hard time with change and transition? Maybe a Picture Plan is just what they (or you) need to save the day. Hope this can help. Blessings on your day.


{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

Caila Murphy May 18, 2011 at 6:59 am

OK, I am very, very interested in this. Perfect timing! Hudson has recently begun asking me every single morning: “Where are we going today, mommy?” After I respond, he continues: “What we gunna do after that?” I answer. “And after that, Mommy. What’s after that?” Another answer, another question. You get the picture. One time he asked me this series of questions and we got through THREE DAYS of activities (room play, craft time, snack, play outside, lunch, rest, dinner, bed, repeat) before he got confused.

Honestly, it drives me a little crazy. :)

Soooo, this might be the PERFECT solution! Clearly, the poor boy needs to know what’s going to happen in his day. I just haven’t been able to figure out a way to share it with him it a way he will remember. The book Steady Days has been helping me to create a routine for the kids (this is still challenging for me, but I’m working on it), but I had no way to share it with them before.

Thanks for sharing, Kari! And thanks to Kari’s teacher friend for sharing it with her! Excellent idea for our preschoolers. I’m going to try it, but I’ll have to use a smaller piece of paper until I locate one of those large rolls. :)


Kari May 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

Seriously, Caila. I think we wired the same and I think our boys are wired the same. Oh and I usually just use an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper and just draw small, but it was fun to use the butcher paper that one day. My drawings are REALLY bad, but it SO helps them. (helps me too…)


Caila Murphy May 19, 2011 at 7:07 am

It went great yesterday, Kari! I found a double-sized piece of paper (IKEA brand, I believe) and we got the markers out and went to town. In true Hudson fashion, he had to make his own rather than help me, so now both are hanging on the fridge. My drawings aren’t very good, but it REALLY helped out yesterday. Thanks for the tip!


Kari May 19, 2011 at 9:16 am

Hooray!! That is awesome. I got a little message from Jamie Martin yesterday and I told her how much you loved her book. How fun is that??


brie. May 18, 2011 at 7:43 am

i also don’t have children – but i used to use this all the time with children at summer camp. i worked with children who were school-aged but many had developmental and cognitive delays – a picture plan was excellent! my family has also used this with a cousin who has down syndrome and it works!

many children with special needs end up having a binder with velcro attached to pictures of different activities inside the binder and velcro on the back of the binder so that it’s portable…could be handy for you too?


Kari May 18, 2011 at 10:00 am

Ooh great idea! I love that. Yes, I have noticed that I wind up drawing the exact same pictures again and again and again. :) I like the velcro idea. Thanks!


Pepper May 18, 2011 at 9:20 pm

You could also make blank squares laminate them and use a wet erase pen to draw special occasion pictures.


Lisa May 18, 2011 at 10:59 am

LOVE. Mine “change resistor” is only 2, but I think I’ll implement this in the fall at 3 yrs. He has to have frequent dr. visits and I’ve found that talking about it hours before and “practicing” taking looks at ears, mouth, etc. has helped immensely. I see picture plans being perfect for him. Thanks!!


Kari May 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Oooh good idea to practice all that stuff before going to the dr. I will definitely be doing that before an upcoming dental appointment for Dutch. Oh dear. :) Hope this works well for you!


Kari Myers May 18, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Kari – I have been enjoying reading your blog while we are away! That chart would work well with a school age boy too! I think I will try it for both of them this fall and just maybe our school days will go a little smoother. Thanks for blogging!


Kari May 18, 2011 at 2:31 pm

Oh Kari, you’re in Hawaii, right? Are you loving it? Thanks for dropping in and saying hello. Hope you guys are great!


Debra May 18, 2011 at 5:23 pm

Adult woman, visual learner, wants her own Picture Plan. Lord,,,????
mmmmaybe not.

Thanks for sharing!!! Do like this plan and posting to a few friends.


Kari May 18, 2011 at 7:24 pm

Yeah, actually I’ve been thinking about how if we don’t grow out of this habit it becomes the adult-version: Expectations! :) Ha.


Pepper May 18, 2011 at 9:31 pm

I’ve done a visual schedule with zane before but I think the key here is going over it together and building it together. I will def be trying this. Especially since we are finally starting to get into a kind of routine since hubby switching from nights to days.


Kari May 19, 2011 at 5:49 am

Yeah, Dutch loves that he has some ownership, at least a little sense of control over his day. Hope this can be helpful!


Amy May 19, 2011 at 2:11 pm

We have an autistic son, and visual scheduling cues were the only way to avoid a meltdown. Started at age 2, made a set of “regular” activities and laminated them, and kept a copy of the game changers in the car. For example, we have to go to Target, Daddy’s work and Papa’s house. If I threw a trip to the bank, or a drop off at the mailbox in town, in there without a visual cue, we’d have a literal meltdown – 20 – 30 minutes of tried and true calming techniques, but screwed up our schedule like crazy. He could hold them in the backseat and hand them to me when we were finished with that particular task, and he knew what was coming next. We still use some of them today, and he’s 8!


Caila Murphy May 20, 2011 at 7:20 am

Ha, that’s awesome, Kari! I’m glad these books are out there for moms like me who have no idea how to do this thing! Seriously, it’s so much easier to do all that professional stuff I was taught. This real life stuff is challenging! :)


Roxy June 5, 2011 at 6:58 am

Aren’t these GREAT? I started doing this about a year ago with my now 5-year-old and they are awesome. I do one for chore the four things he has to do everyday, too – it’s a chore picture chart and he knows the four things he needs to do each morning and checks them off on with a dry-erase marker. I slipped it into a paper protector so I can change the chore chart page if I need to and we can erase the boxes each day and start over. Magical. Just found your site on Simple Homeschool . . . it’s neat!


Kari June 5, 2011 at 12:43 pm

Hello Roxy! Welcome, so glad you ventured over and said hello. YES, this has still been wonderful, and good to hear that it continues to work well for 5-year-olds. And yes, my next step is to incorporate chores (which my son needs more of!). I think I’ll do that this week. Thanks again for saying hi!


Krissa June 5, 2011 at 8:13 am

What a great idea…I’m going to try this!


Kari June 5, 2011 at 12:45 pm

So glad it can be helpful, Krissa! Thanks so much for stopping in to say hello. I see we share a love for the mundane :), you have a beautiful site! I’m off to do some more reading — looks like you have some great (and delicious) things to share.


Tori June 5, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Found you through Jamie’s post over at SimpleMom…
I had lots of success when my dd was 3 with our “schedule in a cup.” I made up little slips of paper (words and pictures) for things we have to get done in our day. I.e.- “Tackle the laundry monster,” “Tidy up mommy’s room,” “go shopping.” When we had a large chunk of time that can be divided in various ways, I used this method to give her some control over what’s happening. Never had a complaint on chore days! I think it helped her to see how much was left to do and what we had already accomplished. The surprise part was fun, too. Plus, I let her draw one or two of them, herself.


Sarah June 6, 2011 at 10:18 am

I might just have to try this one, thanks for the idea!


Ticee June 7, 2011 at 12:02 am

We’ve been doing this off and on with our pre-readers for years. But I make mine in a document and print it out. Then it stays on the fridge. I just do our ‘morning and evening routine’ tho.
I use clip art off the internet for things like;
make bed, get dressed, eat breakfast, fix hair for the morning
eat dinner, clear table, brush teeth, say prayers, read book for night time!


Kari June 7, 2011 at 6:06 am

Great idea! Anything that helps those little bugs know what’s coming and navigate life. Thanks so much for coming here and saying hello!


Theophanie June 7, 2011 at 5:25 am

I think my big one needs this… Thank you for the suggestion!


Kari June 7, 2011 at 6:05 am

:) Yeah, all ages sometimes need a Picture Plan. I know I do! Blessings on your day!


Christine January 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm

Hi Kari,
I am reading through some of your entries and what a beautiful writer you are!
I first came across this page as this was recommended reading by Simple Homeschooler and had to do what I was reading there.
This article is so where i am at right now. I finally got it together and created a calendar for my 3 1/2 yr old and making pictures to go along with it is next on my list. I would love to see the images that go along with this post but they are hiding from me! Is there a way to make them re-appear? Thank you for sharing so much of your thoughts. Will pray for you and your continued work!


Kari January 11, 2012 at 9:03 pm

Hi Christine! Thanks for joining us here! Sadly, I am having some issues with my site and cannot upload pictures right now (would love prayer for that!). I’ll see if I can dig them up on my computer and send them to you … (BTW, they aren’t pretty! Just real-life Sharpie stick-figure drawings!) :)


Rachel June 15, 2012 at 10:37 am

We do this with our little guy – using photographs. It works wonders!!

When I’m somewhere else and don’t have the photos with me, I sketch out like you. seems to work equally as well.


Leave a Comment

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: