Time Passages for Children Who Are Blind

by Kristie Smith-Armand, M.Ed, CTVI

“I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date… No time to say hello, goodbye, I’m late, I’m late” – (from the white rabbit in Alice in Wonderland)

‘Once upon a time’ because of some incredible ‘clock’ adaptations from the American Printing House for the Blind (APH) students who were blind understood their time concepts and never had an excuse for being late like the white rabbit did from Alice in Wonderland.

Time and space can be difficult for someone who cannot see to understand, but with accommodations and a conceptual understanding of time, children who have a visual impairment will understand time along with their sighted peers.

I have used with my students the Analog Clock Model and the Clock Face Sheets in Braille numerous times. The Analog Clock has raised large print markings and Braille hands that easily move around.

To reinforce the understanding of time APH has the awesome Clock Face sheets in Braille. The classroom teachers of my students who are blind have literally gone crazy over these sheets and continually ask me to give them more embossed clock sheets for practice exercises. The clock sheets contain four embossed clock faces where hands can be added and include 25 sheets in each package.

When my student, Austin, was in kindergarten, I would frequently go into the lunchroom with him. His teacher and I would show him where the meat, potatoes, vegetable and fruit were located on his plate by comparing it to the time positions on a clock.

“Austin,” his classroom teacher would say. “The potatoes that you love are located at three o’clock on your plate. Where is your meat?” He would answer by slightly feeling for the location of his food. Austin began to learn the formation of how the clock travels, where his food was located as well as what ‘am’ and ‘pm’ meant.

The children and I always do lessons on understanding time: the past, present , the future, yesterday, today, and tomorrow as well as ‘am’ and ‘pm’. I also, along with the classroom teacher, teach the months of the year, the days of the week and the year through the Braille calendar also from APH. The Individual Calendar Kit and Classroom Calendar Kit are fantastic for helping students to understand time concepts since they are able to feel the positions of the days of the week, the dates, where the month and year are located while practicing reading either Braille or the wonderful large print. The calendars are also consumable. My students also learn how long a minute is, half of an hour, an hour, and a day while working on the calendar.

When I am teaching students about time, Al Stewarts’ song, “Time Passages”, plays over and over again in my head.

“It was late in December, the sky turned to snow
All round the day was going down slow
Night like a river beginning to flow
I felt the beat of my mind go
Drifting into time passages
Years go falling in the fading light
Time passages
Buy me a ticket on the last train home tonight”

Since time is such an important skill to learn in life, I have developed the following fun activities, so that children will not dread their ‘time’ lessons. When children are having fun, the concept will be understood quicker and last a lifetime.

Hopefully, one day our students who are blind will have fond memories of learning and about their past experiences of learning time while their mind, ‘drifts into time passages’, and they will want to buy a ticket on the last train home tonight.’

Fun Activities for Teaching Time:

  • Use a plate of food to teach the concept of 12:00, 3:00, 6:00, and 9:00. Demonstrate how to lightly feel the position of the food while you discuss time.
  • Younger students really seem to enjoy learning about time throughout their regular routine. I place the embossed clock in front of them and use small gold brades for the hands on the clock. The child begins to identify the time on the clock beginning with when they first wake up. We move the clock hands to 6:00 and discuss am. My student and I continue this exercise until it is understood how time and routine correlate throughout every day.
  • Practice counting by fives when traveling around the Analog Clock.
  • For children with more than one disability the Calendar Box system from APH works very well. The boxes are set up to represent times during the day with symbols. For example, if it is time for a snack, a chip bag may represent that time for the student. Routine and real objects help the brain to form neurons for understanding time.
  • Turn on a stopwatch, and ask the student to jog in place for one minute and then five minutes. Ask them how it would feel if they jogged in place for an hour, sixty minutes.
  • When using the calendar, discuss the twelve months of the year, the year, the days of the week, the holidays and seasons. I love the book, Chicken Soup with Rice by Maurice Sendak as he discusses the seasons through an adorable chorus of “with chicken soup with rice.”
  • Have your student use his talking watch and feel how quickly a piece of ice will melt.
  • Read books that start with, “Once upon a time…”
  • See how many words your student can Braille in two minutes.
  • *Use the Game Kit, also from APH. I love the smaller board with a few spaces. If the child can identify the correct time, he may roll the dice and advance that number of spaces.
  • Make up a fun song about the big and little hands on the clock.
  • Spread chocolate pudding across plastic wrap and have students illustrate the clock in the pudding.

Have fun, be creative, and create memories that will last a lifetime!

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