Skip to content

Visual Schedules Part 2: Pill Box & Reward Tool

July 9, 2013

Today’s post is the second part of a short series spotlighting clever uses for visual schedules in the church setting.  In yesterday’s post, we showed how one special needs ministry utilizes individual visual schedules for VBS rotations.  Today, we’ll show one of the most fun special needs tools I’ve ever run across.

This past January we hosted a special needs networking breakfast in Houston.  Most of us had never met before but talked as if we’d known each other for years (and for almost two hours).  In the middle of our breakfast, one of the church leaders delicately interrupted conversation to say she had an idea and “ministry win” that she wanted to share.  She then reached into her purse, and out popped a pill box!

Arielle holding pill box

The pill box quickly became the center of our conversation and this idea has since been shared with other special needs champions.  I absolutely love the pill box visual schedule.  Perhaps the best part of the story is the fact a teen volunteer was the creative mind behind this ingenius invention.  The ministry leader who came to our Houston breakfast, Arielle Lewis, provides the background and story for the pill box below.


pill box

Faithbridge has been blessed with many volunteers wanting to invest in our church’s special needs ministry.  It comes as no surprise that one of our volunteers, a faithful serving high-school student, Naomi, has put much time and effort into working alongside a beautiful child with autism.  As soon as we welcomed our new ministry participant, Naomi was eager to brainstorm about ways we could help this child experience success.  Providing a defined space, using a picture schedule, and working with other ministry leaders to truly include the child with her peers, have all been strategies implemented by Naomi.  So when Naomi came to me and said she had an idea for communication reinforcement I was excited.  Naomi proposed that we use a jumbo 7-compartment pill box (available from pharmacies) as a visual schedule and reward tool for this student.

How we created the pill box schedule & reward tool:

Step 1 Found illustrations for each activity/setting the child participates in
Step 2 Created one-word descriptions & graphics to fit pill box lids
Step 3 Printed activity description & graphic small enough for each lid
Step 4 Laminated the printed graphics for durability
Step 5 Affixed the laminated printouts with tape or glue to lids
Step 6 Obtained parent advisement for a reward (edible treat)
Step 7 Placed 1 or 2 edible treats in each pill box compartment

As you might guess, the pill box schedule was a huge hit with our ministry participant.  The tool gave our student something to look forward to after she completed an activity.  And Naomi and other ministry helpers benefitted by having something positive to talk about when reminding our sweet friend to make good communication choices.

Pill Box Rewards

For our lid graphics, we utilized images from Powerpoint and an internet search site.  You could also print small versions of actual pictures of your church space or activities.  For children who cannot have edible treats, small toys such as Squinkies could also work for a reward.  ~Arielle Lewis


Arielle and NaomiArielle Lewis is the Special Needs Coordinator for All God’s Children of Faithbridge Church in Spring, Texas.  Prior to coming on staff at Faithbridge in 2011, Arielle served as a volunteer in the ministry and taught special education in the Spring Independent School District.  Arielle is pictured (left) with special needs ministry volunteer, Naomi.  

This coming fall Naomi will be entering Sam Houston State University where she plans to major in agriculture while pursuing certification in special education.

[Naomi, we look forward to hearing more great ideas from you.  And I assuredly speak for all readers in saying that we can’t wait to see how God is going to grow you as a ministry leader.  Please keep in touch with us here on The Inclusive Church Blog! ~ AFL]

Pinterest Image Find this post on Pinterest

  1. What an excellent idea! I have used a visual tool but not with the reward boxes too. This is a keeper for sure!

  2. This is the greatest visual schedule idea I have seen in a long time. You can also buy boxes with larger compartments for slightly larger rewards. You could fill with coins or chuck e cheese tokens to be used at a later date/time. (What a great way to teach delayed gratification as opposed to cramming candy in their mouth immediately and having the reward end so quickly.) I am so glad I found this just before our VBS starts next week as we have 2 special needs kids who are definitely going to need encouragement and reinforcement to make it through our FULL day (9-5) camp! Thank you again!

  3. lorisev & Becca – Thanks for your comments.

    I love Becca’s ideas! I think Faithbridge used Skittles or jelly beans for their treats. But obviously candy won’t be ideal for every kid. Coins, tokens, or even stickers are great ideas. Thanks so much for adding to the conversation – no doubt your comments will help many others.

    And good luck with 9-5 days of camp and VBS. 8 hour days are no small task for any children’s ministry leader. Kudos to you!!!

  4. Our Mosaic Minitry is only about 2 years old….and we are about to embark our our church’s Vacation Bible School since launching our ministry. My main concern for our team was how to help those who need a bit of extra help transitioning without having their wall picture schedule.This is PERFECT for our needs! I’m so exciting to show our team at our meeting tonight!!!! THANK YOU!!!!

  5. Jessica – Thanks so much for your comment and congrats on your church’s “Mosaic Ministry”. I love the name for your ministry.

    For transitions, I’ve seen ministry leaders sometimes hand a novelty toy to a child as they move between locations. Providing this fun toy at transition times gives the child something to look forward to – or – distracts them long enough to avoid developing anxiety. Some examples of novelty toys include:

    * Light-up spin wand:
    * Stuffed animal that makes sound when manipulated:
    * Bubble Motion Tumbler:
    * Tangle Therapy:
    * A piece of sticky tape

    Good luck and I can’t wait to hear how VBS goes!

  6. Oh, my gosh! I know it sounds like a great idea, and your treats are already there when the task is completed, but my goodness! That is SUCH a dangerous idea!!! The children young enough (or those with special needs) that need this sort of visual schedule may generalize this activity! If and when they find an adult’s pillbox, they see pills, but think “ooh, candy! There’s my treat!”!!! I would highly suggest thinking of another container in which to keep these items. The idea is great, but the possible outcome could be lethal!

    Please consider using something else…the parents of these children or their grandparents, may have a pillbox around the house and may not even know that you’re using a pillbox with their child. Therefore, the parents don’t know that their children have this notion of what that box is intended for. I would hate for any child to mistakenly take medicine that could harm them, simply because they link it to the really cool fun activity they did with you.
    *praying that none of them make the mistake of eating pills*!

  7. Heather – Thanks for pointing out the concern over using a pill box.

    As with any idea, hopefully a church’s ministry leaders would discuss potential individualized strategies with parents. If there were risks unique to a particular child, those concerns would likely surface during the parent conversations.

    For families that have a child who is at high risk for opening and ingesting pills out of a similar pillbox, it would be advisable NOT to utilize such containers in the home setting. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers, should instead keep medications and vitamins inside the pharmacy-issued, child-resistant prescription bottles.

    Thanks for reading the blog and for weighing in. Perhaps your comment will be a good reminder to another reader to talk about potential strategies with parents and/or to keep harmful medications out of reach and in C-R containers.

  8. I think someone just wanted to be negative, I agree that family most likely wouldn’t be keeping pills in these sort of containers where a child could access them to begin with and if they are that is much more of the issue than using them as a system. In my opinion of course. I look forward to using these with mine, thanks!

  9. As a special education teacher, I very much concur with Heather above that this is a dangerous idea. I have seen this posted all over Pinterest and thought it was time to speak up. While visual schedules and rewards are an excellent idea, please exercise extreme caution using medicine pill boxes with children with autism. It is very possible that they will generalize this skill so that when they see pill boxes at home, their grandparents home, a babysitter, or some other place that they will open them and ingest medicine thinking it’s a treat. Even if you tell the parents about this idea, you do not know everywhere these kids will go in their life and this can be a very unsafe practice to associate items designed for medicine with candy or rewards.

  10. skinnurse permalink

    Reblogged this on skinnurse and commented:
    I Love this creative idea! Find pill boxes at the Dollar store! Use them in many ways – chose image – once completed – kids get a treat! – Or use them as conversation prompts! – etc.

  11. I have been looking for an idea for a student of mine with Autism who wants to snack constantly. Not willing to always comply with his desire to eat so much during the day (thinking of his health) this would be a good solution for me to put in front of him the pill box with the activity I want him to do and once he is finished he can open it up for his snack, but it will be in small increments and inside of the last section maybe glue a “finished” or “stop” sign? I would love to try this or any other suggestions you have until I can find a non-edible reinforcer this student will work for. Thanks

  12. Lots of people use non-edible rewards. Some ideas: stickers, real small sensory toys (look for party favors), or small tokens or tickets to be collected and go toward a final prize. Kids respond to the tangible reward so well. It doesn’t have to be candy or something that can be “enjoyed” immediately. Just a visual “way to go” is what is important. I love your idea of the last compartment having a “finished” word or stop sign. Brilliant. You are on the right track for sure! Would love to see if others have ideas to add here as well.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: