By: Meghan Matusiak, MS OTR/L

Visual aids, specifically visual timers, play a vital role in the lives of many children. The support of the visual helps make an abstract concept, time, more concrete and manageable. They assist children in participating as independently as possible in their activities of daily life, important events, and necessary activities across environments. Visual timers can help make these activities more tolerable and manageable for all who are involved.

Listed below are three different scenarios where a visual timer can be used during an occupational therapy (OT) session in order to help facilitate independence and success in the clinic, at home, and at school.  These scenarios can be tried at home as well. A picture of a visual timer has been provided below.


Children are required to change from one activity to the next and from one setting to another throughout the day. Across environments, transitions occur frequently. They require children to stop their current activity, shift their attention, move from one setting to another, and begin something new.

Some children may have difficulty shifting attention from one task to another or with changes in routine. In OT sessions, we set a visual timer towards the end of the session (typically when 2-5 minutes are remaining) to prepare the child for the upcoming transition, as well as to support them as the transition occurs. A timer can be used in a similar manner when transitioning between activities within the session as well.

Non-Preferred Activities

Participating in non-preferred activities may be especially challenging for children as they develop. Children may not understand why they have to participate in an activity that is not desirable or how long the activity will last.

A visual timer acts as a clear marker for when the activity will be done, and it sets expectations for the child in a way that they can understand. In an OT session, we may set a timer for 5 minutes while a child is participating in a handwriting activity, for example, to motivate the child to work until their task is complete.

Focusing and Staying on Task

Often children begin a task understanding that it needs to be completed. However, they may shift their attention from the end goal of an activity or the theme of a play schema. Children may lose track of time or become distracted by wants, needs, items, or sounds around the room.

Visual timers can be an ideal solution for staying on task. It also helps divide the task into smaller, more manageable pieces. In an OT session, a visual timer may be set during a fine motor craft in order to assist the child in staying organized and focused on a specific portion of the task.   

visual timer

These are three scenarios where using a visual timer can be helpful for children across various ages and stages of development. Do you use a visual timer at home? Let us know how it has helped your child!

If you have questions about visual timers or about how our therapists can help your child, contact us today!