Routines for a New School Year: Why Visuals are Essential

routines for a new school year

Most teachers know that establishing rules and procedures from Day One is a must. But when it comes to routines for a new school year, many teachers are missing a key ingredient: visuals.

In this article, we’ll explain why visuals are a classroom essential. Plus, we’ll give you tips on how to create and use effective visual routines to ensure your classroom runs smoothly.

Routines for a New School Year: Don’t Forget Visuals!

All teachers have experienced the frustration of repeating a procedure again and again, only to have children ask, “What are we supposed to do?” We assume that children should know better by now. However, it takes children over 400 times in context to learn a new skill.

And while we may get tired of repeating ourselves, pictures don’t! Visual routines help your students succeed and can minimize your frustration in the classroom.

In addition, children encode information in pictures. Visual routines allow children to store important information in their brains, where they can more easily remember and access it.

When students understand your expectations, they feel safer and more comfortable in your classroom. And when students feel safe and comfortable, they’re in the optimal state to learn.

So to recap, visual routines are essential because:

  • Children encode information in pictures.
  • It takes children over 400 times in context to learn a new skill.
  • We get tired of repeating ourselves, but pictures don’t.
  • When expectations are clear, children feel safe, comfortable, and ready to learn.

Tips for Creating Visual Routines

Now that you know why visuals are key, we’ll share some tips for adding visuals to your daily routines.


First, think about a typical day in your classroom. When do you notice that children are struggling to meet your expectations? Is there a time when the class doesn’t run as smoothly as you’d like, or you find yourself feeling consistently frustrated?

These may include transitions, clean up, nap time, centers, snack, or even when children are using the restroom. For older children, this may occur before or after lunch or at dismissal, or you may notice that your students struggle to remember homework.

The times that you’ve identified are times when the children in your classroom likely need more support. Think about how you can add visual routines to help them succeed. It’s never too late to introduce routines for a new school year, as long as you take the time to adequately teach them.

M.A.P. It

The globally recognized social-emotional learning program Conscious Discipline recommends using the M.A.P. process to teach routines. M.A.P. stands for Model, Add Pictures, and Practice.

Let’s say you wanted to teach young children a three-step process for lining up at the door. The three steps are stand up, push in your chair, and quietly line up. Sounds simple enough, right? Remember that for children, it isn’t so easy.

To help your children succeed, start by modeling the process. This means that you should demonstrate standing up, pushing in a chair, and quietly lining up. You may also have a few students who have mastered the process help you model.

Next, add pictures. Ideally, these would be three pictures of your students successfully completing each step in the process. It doesn’t have to be fancy, though. Simple drawings work too!

Finally, your students need opportunities to practice. It may feel repetitive to you, but call on children and have them demonstrate the process. If they forget, offer gentle reminders or point to the pictures you’ve provided.


Don’t forget to celebrate when students complete the routine or procedure successfully. Say, “You did it!” Even better, specify exactly what the child did: “Wow, you stood up, pushed in your chair, and quietly lined up so we could go to music class. That was helpful!”

Now, you’ve given the other children another clear example of what the procedure should look like.

Types of Visual Routines

Visual routines can include:

  • Pictures of a step-by-step process
  • A visual schedule (for the whole day or broken into parts, e.g. schedule for centers, schedule for lunchtime, etc.)
  • Two yeses and a no (a picture of two acceptable ways to do something, and one way not to do it e.g., two ways children may sit during circle time and one way they may not sit)
  • Pictures of what an area of the classroom should look like when it’s clean
  • Pictures depicting where classroom items belong (e.g., a picture of pencils on the pencil container)

Routines for a New School Year: Final Thoughts

We all know that clearly established routines for a new school year are helpful for our students. But without visuals, these routines are far too easy to forget, resulting in frustration for all.

To help your students succeed, incorporate visual routines into the most stressful parts of your day. You’ll be glad you did!