Calendars & Compensatory Skills – Introducing the Day  

Photo shows five calendar boxes in alternating colors with bold print labels. Real items are included in each box. The labels read from left to right: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Get Dressed, Go to School, Snack.

What are we doing tomorrow? Are we free for a zoo trip next Saturday? What time do we need to be at the orthodontist on Thursday?  My personal calendar neatly holds the answers to all these important questions. I wouldn’t get far in life without my calendar to keep me on my daily track. Unfortunately, this has been proven time and again when I forget or mangle the details of events that I only try to remember mentally. Even if you’ve proven to have a better history than me of keeping your mental notes straight, I’m fairly confident you have a calendar of your own to master at least your important life events, if not your daily tasks, goals, and deadlines as well.  

Calendars are a critical part of most every successful adult’s life; calendar keeping is a critical skill to teach our kiddos. As with most concepts and skills, when it comes to our little ones who are blind or low vision and who may have multiple disabilities, the earlier we introduce the tool of the calendar, the better! 

What Are Compensatory Skills? 

Compensatory skills are the set of skills that enable your child who is blind or low vision to access and meet the demands of their age and skill-appropriate education curriculum. Large print and/or braille literacy, use of tactile representations (diagrams and maps), study skills, organizational skills, and general concept development are all part of the compensatory skill set.  

More information on compensatory skills and their importance can be found here: Compensatory Skills and the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC).  

For now, we will focus on one facet of your child’s compensatory skill set – their organizational skills. “Zooming in” even further to a subset of organizational skills, which can also help build the ever-growing areas of concept development, is keeping a calendar! 

Why Does My Child Need to Keep a Calendar? 

We may not think keeping a calendar is a necessary skill to teach our children until they are a little older when they have more deadlines at school to demand their time. We may also assume that the schools will teach this skill, and they may. However, even our littlest ones can benefit incredibly from the use of a simple calendar to give them structure and help them anticipate their day – even before they are in a formal education setting. Here are some of the many benefits waiting to be reaped by your little one, just by implementing a simple calendar system: 

  • Develop organizational skills 
  • Learn time concepts of yesterday, today, and tomorrow 
  • Learn more time concepts of what a day, week, month, and year entail and how we organize them to keep track of time 
  • Prepare for the events of the current or upcoming day 
  • Record and anticipate important events, appointments, and goals 
  • Learn methods that will increase her independence, self-determination, and dependability 
  • Acquire a skill necessary for flourishing in a school environment and in maintaining future employment  

Helpful Considerations Before Your Begin 

  • If your child is already in a classroom setting, the calendar system will be most effective if the same system is used at home and school. Work with your child’s classroom teacher and Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) to ensure everyone is on the same page! 
  • It may be helpful to begin tracking your child’s daily routine on their calendar system (see the section on calendar boxes below). As they progress, you can introduce different types of calendars. 
  • Starting with real objects to represent an event can be helpful with initial concept development and understanding the calendar’s purpose. For example, using a real toothbrush denotes the time to brush your teeth. As your child progresses, symbols, pictures, large print, and braille can all be interchanged for real objects.  
  • Determine how many items should be on the calendar. This will vary based on your child’s age, abilities, and comfort level with the calendar system. You could start with three or four items/symbols and adjust from there. 
  • Find a location that is easily accessible for your child, preferably in a “high traffic” area, so it doesn’t become forgotten in the daily shuffle. If your child uses a wheelchair, a portable calendar may work best.  
  • Decide how to mark an event as “finished”. Will you have a basket to put real objects or an envelope to put Velcro symbols in once an activity has been completed? There are many ways to “check the box.” Just make sure that completed items are noted in some fashion, to help your child understand the day’s progression. 

Types of Calendars 

With a variety of planning tools available, it can be overwhelming. These include monthly, weekly, and daily planners, written and electronic checklists, and various digital calendars like Google and Outlook. Your child might use many of these throughout their life. But to simplify things for teaching purposes, let’s focus on a select few. Specifically, we’ll discuss two types of accessible calendars. These are particularly beneficial for young children or those with different exceptionalities.

1 – Expandable Calendar Boxes 

Starting with a daily calendar is effective for children who are blind or have low vision. It’s also useful for those with multiple disabilities. This method promotes tangible interaction with objects. This is easier to grasp than abstract representations, especially without a solid foundation.

Imagine several boxes, each holding an object that symbolizes a specific activity. Tailor this to your child’s understanding and abilities. Begin with just one box to signify the upcoming activity. Then, introduce a second box. This helps teach the concept of “now” and “next.” Gradually, include more boxes to outline the entire day’s schedule. This step-by-step approach builds a clear, tangible daily calendar.

For example, you may set out three boxes representing your morning routine. The first could include a toothbrush for brushing teeth, a spoon for breakfast time, and a ball for outside play time. As each event is completed, have your child remove the item from the calendar or cover the corresponding box to denote that it is finished and time for the next event.  

Choosing meaningful objects for this activity is critical. These objects support your child to understand what activity is being represented. For example, choosing a cloth napkin would not be a great choice to represent lunchtime if paper napkins are what your child uses.   

Boxes could be as simple as old shoe boxes hiding in your closet or baskets you already have at home. APH also has a ready-to-go system available for purchase here: Expandable Calendar Boxes

If your child uses a wheelchair, you might find a calendar box stabilizer helpful. It can rest on your child’s wheelchair tray, allowing calendar activities to be presented to him comfortably: Calendar Box Stabilizer.  

2 – Grid Calendar (weekly or monthly) 

Once your child has mastered the daily calendar, you could progress them to a type of grid calendar. Beginning with a weekly plan will likely be a helpful interim before moving to the more complex monthly layout.  

You can represent grid calendars tactually or in bold/large print on paper or a board. Create your calendar based on your and your child’s preference. Use embossed lines, wikki stix, or other raised items to outline each day’s box. Customize your calendar with braille or large print, depending on your child’s preferred mode of literacy. Attach objects or pictures with Velcro (or another type of fastener). For emerging readers, you can use single braille letters to represent the first letter of each activity. This will work as long as the letters don’t repeat. See APH’s Feel ‘n Peel Stickers: Braille-Print Alphabet Letters

A monthly individual calendar kit with twelve brightly colored and embossed/bold line grid sheets is available here: APH Individual Calendar Kit. Labels are marked in both large print and braille. 

Be Consistent! 

Many children need significant time to learn how a calendar system works. Repetition and experience are where learning occurs. Stay consistent and contact your child’s educational team for tips if you feel an area needs to be tweaked. Progress will come in time!