In an earlier post, we explored different ways to help a child who struggles with executive functioning skills to begin to make sense of the abstract concept of time. (If you missed that post, you can catch up here.) Beginning to make sense of the passage of time by using an analog clock is only part of the story, though. Eventually, you want your child to have a sense of what "five minutes" means — even without a clock nearby.
Give Away "Pieces of Time"
To make time a bit more concrete for your child, try literally handing her a "piece of time" when you need her to know how long she has to accomplish something — or just to play. To do this, you’ll need to print out several paper clocks and mark them to show different increments of time. For example, a five-minute increment will look like a very narrow wedge, while a 30-minute increment is a perfect semi-circle.
Color each increment — five, 10, 15, 20, 30, 45 and 60 minutes are the most useful — in a different color. It’s a good idea to make the smallest one red, and work your way up through the rainbow using colors that feel less "urgent" the larger the pieces of time get. Cut out the wedges and label them with the amount of time they represent.
To use your pieces of time, hand the appropriate wedge to your child whenever you mention how much time is available for a task. Have him hold it in his hands and repeat back to you how much time is available — the wedge should stay in view during the task (or fun time). This is another way of making time very concrete and visual, even when there’s not a clock around.
Now, Next, Later
Another aspect of understanding the passage of time involves putting things in order. Many kids — and plenty of adults — with executive functioning challenges have trouble prioritizing and focusing on the task at hand and instead find their minds bouncing around to what will come later.
Help your child practice putting tasks in order with a simple "now, next, later" strategy. This can help break down a seemingly simple task like doing the dishes into manageable steps and help your child focus. For example:
- Now: Load the dishwasher.
- Next: Add soap and press start.
- Later: Watch TV.
This simple technique can help provide a basic temporal structure for everything from research papers and homework to cleaning the playroom. You might even find it helpful for your own scheduling, so it’s definitely worth a try!