Many children, but especially those with special needs, struggle with transitioning from one activity to another. One very powerful tool to helping a child with special needs navigate their day is the use of a visual schedule, but just knowing the order of events to expect may not be enough. How much "time" can be alotted for each activity may also need support tools. For children with special needs a portion of the struggle can be understood as a poor concept of time. How much time to do I have to play? When do I need to be ready to go to school? What time does the party start? When will my friend come to play? All of these questions and more may be hard to conceptualize, vocalize, or comprehend the answer to.
Allow me to introduce you to my favorite time keeping tools:
(pictured above, left to right, top to bottom)
The digital clock - ideally a child will also learn to use an analog clock at some time, but when a child has learned numbers up to 59 a digital clock can be a much more accessible tool. We use the digital clock in our car to talk about what time we need to be somewhere, and what time it is now...so are we running late and needing to hurry, or do we have plenty of time and can relax.
The Time Timer (TM) - available in many teaching supply stores, the Time Timer also comes in a smaller more portable version, and is an excellent tool for children who are extremely visual. "How much time do I have to play?", "We have 30 minutes before we need to get in the car. Would you like to see how much time that is?" After a lot of use the child knows a little red is a little time, etc. There is also an audible (but friendly!) beep when the timer reaches zero. Our favorite use for the Time Timer is to set a kind but firm limit on "snuggle time" in the morning before time to get dressed. Because we always use it for this function we need no verbal reminders of what it means when the timer beeps.
The sand timer - also available in many teaching supply stores, and in various lengths of time. We have a one minute timer and a two minute timer. Thankfully we don't use them too much any more. They were primarily used for "time outs". Our time outs are used to reinforce our house rules and as an opportunity to calm down. Using the sand timer can be beneficial because watching the sand flow from one side of the vessel to the other is mesmerizing and has a calming effect. Hooray!
The portable timer - excellent for trips to the park ("We need to leave in 5 minutes...I'm setting my timer"), events in the back yard, or anytime that we're moving around the house a lot. It can also be used when giving the child a choice (and a little control) over which timer they want to use. "You can play on the computer for five more minutes...would you like to use the red timer (Time Timer), the white timer (portable), or...
The kitchen timer - ours beeps until you turn it off, so it is harder to ignore and claim that it didn't run out yet. It's only downfall is that it is rather fixed in place, so it requires some back and forth if you are elsewhere in the house.
I think as our world becomes more hectic, more technological, and more complicated, everyone seems to struggle with time management. There's a whole arsenal of tools to help our kids begin early to learn skills to manage their time, and bring some measure of peace to the flow of our days.
Special thanks to two wonderful people, Clarissa Montanaro and Robin Hauge, who turned me on to the power of using timers with children with special needs. Please contact them at clarissamontanaro-AT-gmail-DOT-com for more information.