Supporting Students Who Have Difficulty with Changes in Routine


We know how much kindergarten students thrive on routine. One of the reasons we know this is that we see how easily behavior veers off course when there are changes to the daily schedule! In this post, I’m sharing tips for supporting students who have difficulty with changes in routine.

Supporting students who have difficulty with changes in routine

Why Changes in Routine Can Be Difficult for Students

Schedule changes are often difficult for students, but this is especially true in kindergarten. Here are just a few of the reasons:

  • Anxiety of the Unknown – Kindergarten students are experiencing many things for the very first time.  When they hear that the schedule is different because of an “assembly” that afternoon, they might not even know what that means! Even after you describe it to them, some students will still be anxious about it until they actually experience this new-to-them activity. This could cause some negative behaviors leading up to the special event. 
  • Unclear Expectations – You might also notice some challenging behaviors when it’s time for the special event. This can happen when students aren’t sure about what’s expected of them in that new situation.
  • Loss of Control – When the schedule begins to change, students can feel a loss of control. This can lead to control-seeking behavior such as defiance
  • Preferred Activity – Sometimes students are frustrated by a change in routine because they are worried about what that means for their preferred activity. If there is something in the daily routine that students love, it can be hard for them when the daily routine changes.
  • Excitement – Finally, schedule changes are often due to the addition of something your students are excited about. This excitement can make it difficult for students to focus and follow directions all day long.

How Visuals Can Support Students During Changes in Routine

You can use a variety of visuals to support your students during schedule changes. In fact, the right combination of visual supports can address all of the challenges that I just mentioned. Here’s how:

A picture schedule in a blue pocket chart on a bulletin board

1. Provide Advance Warning

A picture schedule can give students advance warning of schedule changes. Plus, the image included on the picture schedule can give your students some context about the special event that might be new to them. 

Picture schedule cards for special events

If you’d like to have some illustrated cards for your visual schedule, just head over here to grab a free file. It includes picture schedule inserts for special events like book fair, assembly, concert, and more!

2. Communicate Expectations

Visuals can also help you communicate expectations for these special activities and experiences. For example, if your class is going outside for a wildlife presentation, some students might think that recess behavior and voice levels are okay. You could use visuals to reinforce the behavior expectations before you head outside. 

Our Carpet Expectations bulletin board with posters

If you normally give students a choice of how to sit at the carpet, you could use your carpet time visuals to reinforce the expectation that students remain seated during the outdoor presentation. If you have a voice level visual, you can use that to remind students that they should have Level 0 voices while they’re listening to the presentation. It can be difficult for young students to generalize behavior expectations to different settings, but visuals can help bridge that gap.

3. Avoid Power Struggles

When the daily routine is out of order, it can feel like the day is out of control for some students. This can cause defiant behavior from students who are trying to hold onto control in any way they can. You can avoid power struggles through the use of visuals.

Moving pictures to the done column of a visual schedule

A picture schedule can become a neutral third party of sorts. It’s not YOU telling the student that the routine is changing. The schedule is set! For some students, it can be helpful to give them an individual picture schedule to support them through the change in routine.

4. See the Big Picture

A picture schedule is also a great way to communicate the bigger picture to your students. Instead of saying “We have an assembly this afternoon,” you can actually show students where the assembly fits into the big picture of the school day.

This can alleviate a lot of anxiety for students, particularly those who are worried about when they will eat lunch or whether they will miss the bus home. As teachers, we can reassure them all we want but it can be more effective to just show our students that all of those things are included in the plan for the day.

A visual schedule can also prevent negative behaviors when students can see that their preferred activities are still going to happen; they might just occur during a different part of the day than usual.

5. Encourage Students to Follow Directions

Visuals can also encourage students to follow directions in the classroom. It can feel like you’re repeating yourself over and over when you have a room full of students who are excited about the book far in the afternoon. It can be hard for them to listen to directions and follow through!

Direction cards in a pocket chart

You can use visuals like these picture direction cards to help reinforce the directions. This can make it easier for students to stay on task and get their work done when all they want to do is go to the exciting activity in the afternoon!

Printable Visuals for the Kindergarten Classroom

Would you like to have some extra visuals on hand in your classroom? I have created a bundle of tools that help support students who have difficulty with changes in routine. Inside this bundle of printable resources you’ll find a variety of different visuals that you can use throughout the school day. All of the schedules and visuals that I shared in this post (plus many more) are included in the bundle.

Just head over to the Teaching Exceptional Kinders shop or to my TPT store to take a closer look at everything included in this set of printable visuals.

Classroom Visuals - Bundle of Picture Supports

More Tips for Adjusting to Schedule Interruptions

Check out this video for even more tips to help your students adjust to schedule interruptions!

Save These Tips for Supporting Students Through Schedule Changes

Be sure to save this post so you can come back to it later! Just add the pin below to your favorite teaching board on Pinterest. You’ll be able to quickly find these resources when you’re looking for ways to support your students who have difficulty with changes in routine.

Supporting students who have difficulty with changes in routine (with tools that work!)


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