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Teaching the Concept of Time to Special Needs Children

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

Helping special education students master the concept of time is an important part of helping them develop independence. This lesson offers some ideas about how you can teach the concept of time to children with special needs.

The Importance of Time

Ms. Newman teaches third grade special education in an inclusive setting, one where her students learn alongside their typically-developing peers. She has noticed that while many of the typical students in the class mastered the concept of time in second grade, her students often seem confused about what time is all about.

They are sometimes able to tell time on the clock, but they do not really seem to understand what time is and why it matters. She realizes that this will get in the way of her students' independence because understanding how time works is an important part of functioning in the world.

Ms. Newman knows that when teaching more abstract concepts, such as time, paying attention to students' individual strengths and struggles is important, but she also knows that there are some things she can do in general to help all of her students get a better grasp on what time is all about.

Real Life Examples

First of all, Ms. Newman knows that time will make more sense to her students if they experience it authentically, or as it applies to their real lives. She knows that the more her students talk about and see time represented in relation to the things they experience routinely, the better they will understand what it means.

To help her students think about time in their real lives, Ms. Newman:

  • writes the time on the daily schedule in the classroom
  • talks with her students repeatedly about what time it is and how much time has passed
  • has her students complete sentences using 'before,' 'after,' 'in two hours,' and other similar prompts, about their own lives and activities
  • asks families to articulate the time and the passage of time in their usual activities

Ms. Newman finds that many students with special needs benefit from this authenticity and start to internalize a sense of what time is all about and how it affects their daily lives.

Tactile and Visual Activities

Another thing Ms. Newman knows is that, in general, her students with special needs tend to be visual learners, those who master new material better when working with images and graphic organizers.

Another subset of them learns well with tactile strategies, using their hands and bodies. Therefore, she uses this information to help her teach time more effectively. For example:

  • She uses a play clock to let them see the time and wind the hands themselves.
  • She shows pictures of different kinds of clocks.
  • She uses graphic organizers to help them chart elapsed time in different scenarios.
  • She has them act out scenes that involve talking about time and the passage of time.
  • She asks them to sketch images of things that tend to happen at particular times of day.

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