I am looking for ideas on how to teach my 4-year-old son who is deafblind about the passage of time. They are at the beginning stages of implementing a tactile calendar at school, but I am wondering if there is something that would be a smaller step than going straight to the big calendar.
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The ability to grasp concepts of time will depend a lot on the individual child, and how much he understands about past, present, and future. A tactile calendar is often the first way that children who are deafblind or blind with additional disabilities are exposed to the sequence of time. Using this approach, a child learns to anticipate what will happen next by examining objects associated with given activities (such as a cup for drinking). Typically these are arranged in left to right sequence, with a “finished” box on the right hand side. This helps to develop a sense of what will happen later, what is happening now, and what has already happened (items in the “finished” box). As a child begins to develop an understanding of this organization and signs such as “later” and “finished” more abstract signs can be introduced. See the blog post Calendar Boxes and Schedule Systems as Literacy Tools
Introduce time-related vocabulary, as appropriate (signed and spoken), for example, later, now, before, after, finished, today, tomorrow, yesterday, days of the week.
Reinforce this vocabulary with concrete symbols or experiences, e.g. "bath time later", "bath time now", "bath time finished".
If you are looking to help your son specifically to understand specific days, such as how long until something happens, you can also create a way to represent whole days. Some children understand "sleeps" as a way to count days and mark the passage of time. For example, "How many sleeps until we see Grandma?" If a calendar is set up with each day/week/month, checking this together and discussing that another "sleep" has happened can help to build the concept.
Similarly, if he knows that he goes to school for 5 days and then is home for two days on the weekend, you could set up a different type of tactile calendar to represent each day. You can look at this calendar together each morning as part of his routine to see which type of a day it is (a “going to school” day or a “staying at home day”). Monthly Tactile Calendars gives some examples on how to set these up.
The National Center on Deafblindness also has a comprehensive listing of resources on Calendar Systems.
Good luck and let us know how it goes!