Visuals: They are so much more than cute
We all know that young children benefit from visual cues in addition to verbal directions. The beauty of visuals is that often, when you have the right visuals in place, you don’t need to give verbal directions at all because the child already knows what to do. This can help the child build independence and confidence, and it makes things much easier on us teachers!
One thing I started doing my very first year of teaching was using an animal symbol for each child. It’s often one of things parents notice right off the bat. “Awwww…look honey! You’re the green frog! That’s so cute!” They are cute, but that’s not the reason to use them, and I am always quick to explain to parents that much of what might appear “cute” in the preschool classroom is actually serious business!
An animal is easy for children to recognize, particularly since most preschoolers don’t come into school reading their names in print. A child probably doesn’t know yet that S-A-M spells Sam, but he might be able to recognize a dog and begin to recognize that the red dog is his symbol in the classroom. Paired with his name in print, he will likely begin to recognize his name, as well. That alone is reason to use animals, but there are other benefits, as well.
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Benefits of Using Animal Symbols:
- Child friendly and fun
- Children are naturally attracted to animal pictures. The idea of being represented by an animal is appealing to young children.
- I belong here
- Children quickly relate to their animal symbol establishing a sense of belonging in the classroom.
- Teaches animal identification
- Each child is represented by a different animal, so there is constant exposure to the concept.
- Reinforces color recognition
- Reproducing animal symbols using different colors allows the opportunity to represent all colors.
- Teaches names of classmates
- Children quickly associate other animal symbols with the names belonging to their classmates.
- Where do I belong?
- Animal symbols act as visual cues to help children know their place in the classroom – marking floor space, cubbies, place at the table, etc. Animal symbols let children know exactly where they are supposed to sit, stand, or find personal belongings. It is their own personal space (establishing a sense of belonging in the classroom).
- Teaches respect
- Animal symbols define other children’s classroom space. Children learn to respect other children’s animals and the space it represents.
- Maintains order in the classroom
- Fewer oral directions need to be repeated.
- Transitions are less confusing.
- As children change from one activity to the next, animals are in place to help children know where they need to be (For example: they can move from a circle activity to finding their animal floor square in a line at the door, or coming in from outside they find their animal place mat at the snack table or floor squares in line at the sink for hand washing).
- Flexibility of Seating
- Teacher can determine the placement of each animal whether it be in a line at circle time or at the snack table (close to the front, next to the teacher, or away from possible conflicts that may increase negative behavior).
- Help children identify spatial concepts
- Young children benefit from visual cues helping them to identify where they are in “time and space.” Preschoolers need practice perfecting their motor planning skills. Young children are often unaware of the fact that their arms and legs are in another child’s space. The teacher can make sure that animals squares are placed far enough apart to allow adequate space between children avoiding accidental bumping or unwanted touching (which will prevent behavior problems).
Suggested Use of Animal Symbols Around the Classroom
- Greeting or “checking in” as children enter the classroom.
Children should start their day by being greeted and individually recognized as a part of the class. This promotes positive feelings of belonging. They can then “sign in” by moving their animal from the “Home” side of the chart to the “School” side.
- Place animal symbol in cubby or space for personal belongings.
- Use large animal pattern for best visibility.
- Make sure it is visible, even when cubby is full of belongings.
- Make snack or lunch table place mats with child’s animal.
- Place mats can be made by gluing animal symbols onto white construction paper. Laminate or cover with clear contact paper
- Floor Squares
You can go about this a few ways. You can print the animals and use contact paper to adhere them to the floor, as shown here, or you can put the printout of the animal in the center of a 12”X12” square of matting board, canvas art panel, or similar material and cover with contact paper. Floor squares made this way can be taken anywhere children need help defining space – library, assemblies, cafeteria, field trips.
- Circle time Squares
- Cut smooth white panel board (or shower board) in 12”X12” squares (or other durable material). The board can be purchased in 4’x8’ sheets at home improvement centers. We also used this board to make a story board. There’s a ton left over, so there is plenty to make circle time squares with the leftovers.
- Place animal in center of 12”x12” board.
- Cover with contact paper, wrapping around all edges to keep contact paper from peeling.
- Arrange squares on carpet before calling children to circle time.
- Note: If you have children who are distracted by sitting on a board, you can use contact paper to tape a paper version of the animal on your circle rug. Just keep in mind that this makes it difficult to move kids around.
- Job charts or center markers
- Laminate animals for durability.
- Use Velcro dots on chart board or glue laminated animals to craft sticks.
- Label extra clothes and belongings
I like to put the animals on labels that I print for each child at the beginning of the year. I print various sized labels and use them for folders, plastic bins for extra clothing or belongings, book bag tags, and car seats for community based instruction. Any time you need to label something with the child’s name, just pull out a sticker!
- Label chairs and cots
You can print them on paper and place on the back of the chair or leg of the cot. Then you just have to cover it with contact paper. You can also print large shipping labels with the animals and child’s name to make your own stickers.
- Create visuals for routines in the classroom
- Use Visual Schedules
All children, but particularly those with disabilities and language delays, benefit from the use of visual schedules for the daily schedule and may even require schedules that are broken down for activities.
Using visuals can help to maintain order in your classroom as well as prevent behavior problems. Children learn best in a positive atmosphere combined with organization. Structure provides children with a sense of security in knowing what to expect throughout their day. So when a parent comments about how cute your visuals are, kindly thank them, and then explain why visuals are so much more!