How to get kids on a good routine without losing your mind

good routine and schedule for kids


When I was growing up if you went to summer school you were either being punished for failing a class or an over achiever wanting to get ahead.

Around here having class the month of June is kind of the norm.  Elementary school kids go to summer school in the mornings to take fun classes like Under the Sea or Robotics.

My daughter is even taking a class this summer online so she can have room in her schedule in 10th grade to take more classes.

Do you ever look at your kids and think- “Where did this person come from?”

A few summers ago my youngest son, Tyler, was adamant he did not want to go to summer school.  We made a deal- as long as he practiced his school work for a little bit each day he could skip it.

I knew it was only a matter of time before we got out of the routine of doing school at home so I put him on a visual schedule.  I got him a binder to decorate and each page was a day and he would list off the things he wanted/needed to get done and then we would organize them into a schedule.

He loved checking off everything on his list- he is my child that inherited my love of lists.

Tyler didn’t know it, but I used a tool that many ABA/Autism classrooms use every day- A Visual Schedule.

The technical term for a visual schedule in this context is a Premack Schedule- named for the guy who thought it all up- David Premack.

The Premack Principle- in fancy speak

If behavior B is of higher probability than behavior A, then behavior A can be made more probable by making behavior B contingent upon it.  (Also known as “relativity theory of reinforcement”, based on the work of David Premack)

Gibberish right?  Here’s the scoop:

A liked activity followed by a disliked activity. Simple.

A Premack schedule helps a child feel better about doing something uncomfortable because there’s the promise of something exciting afterward.

Think of grandma’s dinner table- If you want dessert you have to finish your veggies.

 visual schedule for kids

Most kids would rather eat dessert over veggies right?  You typically wouldn’t let your kid eat ice cream before they ate dinner because there’s usually a better chance they will eat their veggies if they have the promise of dessert after.  Common sense.

visual schedule for kids

Ice cream is good. (don’t you love it when people state the obvious?)  In this case ice cream is a reinforcer (it persuades) your kid to eat the vegetables.

These statements are sometimes referred to as If/Then or First/then statements.  Although I prefer- As soon as you_____ then you can _____ statements.

As soon as you eat your veggies you can have some ice cream.”  They don’t have to get ice cream.  It puts the ball in their court- they can choose not to have ice cream.

I am not taking that privilege away, they are giving it up because they didn’t eat their vegetables.

One thing to remember is to make sure the child knows what the reinforcer is.  He should know that he gets the ice cream after he eats his veggies. It will motivate him more.  Simple right?

Here’s another classic example:

visual schedule for kids


visual schedule

As soon as you finish your homework you can play a game on my phone.

Tyler and I went through his schedule every day and talked about how some activities looked more fun than others.  Math was especially difficult so we always put something super fun right after so it motivated him to stick with it and do his best so he could just get on with the day.

Another technique- Try rearranging the sentence

Some professionals believe you should flip the order of these statements and say the reinforcer first.  It gets it in the child’s head what they are getting out of the deal.

For example, instead of saying “As soon as you finish your homework you can play a game on my phone.”  You would say: “If you want to play a game on my phone you need to finish your homework.”

If your kid struggles with sticking with tasks or if he is super literal-wording can make a huge difference!

 Give reminders- What are you working for?

We use this as a quick prompt to get behaviors back on track quickly.

If my daughter is being slow about finishing her homework- I might say- hey-Remember we were going to paint toe nails after you finish!

Or if Spencer is supposed to do the dishes but keeps getting distracted I might say- What are you working for?  Remember you can have a special snack after you finish your chores.

What does a visual schedule look like?

Here is an example of Tyler’s Summer Visual Schedule:

Tyler's summer schedule

Here’s an after school/evening schedule I use for Spencer pretty regularly:

visual schedule

First is a set up activity.  In this example we are looking at a possible after school routine so a natural set up activity is to put his backpack away and go to the bathroom.  For Tyler’s summer school schedule it was shower, get dressed, eat breakfast.  This activity cue’s them that it’s almost time to work.

Then I choose activities he is the most motivated by and put those behind the activities he hates the most.

Is it bribery?

Some people would call a Premack schedule bribery.  I prefer to think of it as reinforcement.

Why do you go to a job every day that you hate?  Money.  Money is the reinforcer.  We wouldn’t look at it as a bribe. You are doing difficult work to earn that money.

Going back to the eating example, why do grown ups eat their vegetables?  To have good health.  We are reinforced by our health and lack of medical bills to eat well.

I view a good schedule as a tool to make my kids’ world a friendlier place.

Visual Schedule Recap

A Visual Schedule is:

  • Disliked activity first
  • Followed by a liked activity
  • Go over the schedule with your child so they know what to expect
  • Let them cross it off the list
  • Let them choose the reinforcer when appropriate
  • Remind them what they are working for- what’s in it for them!

I Love Visual Schedules for my kids

  • They keep my kids focused
  • Help them to know what’s going on
  • Help with behaviors
  • Build in reinforcers (rewards)
  • Keep them from being overwhelmed
  • and best of all- gets them in the habit of making lists- a habit I fully endorse.

That’s a tall order for a little piece of paper and a pen, but I’ve seen it work miracles with all of my kids.

When have you used a visual schedule?   Was it successful?





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