Calendar Time and Experiential Language
Calendar activities and morning circle time can often be a difficult period for many young children with autism with language and communication delays. For these children, the language, the large group format, the abstract concepts or many other factors can create a difficult learning activity for students, as well as a difficult to manage instructional activity for teachers. If this situation sounds familiar, then this teacher’s experience may prove helpful.
Tracy Smith, who taught a preschool class for students with autism at Tampa Palms Elementary School in Tampa, took a different approach to morning calendar activities. She recognized that in order to make calendar activities relevant for all her students, abstract concepts such as “yesterday”, “today”, “tomorrow” and “last week” need to be taught as they relate to students’ day-to day activities and experiences. She also noticed they learned better if they were engaged through multiple modalities.
Tracy changed her calendar activities by infusing experiential language techniques, along with opportunities for movement and visual and auditory stimulation. This approach proved to be a great way to promote language and communication skills, especially for her students with varying language abilities. Tracy could easily adapt her lessons to address all ability levels and expand each student’s expressive communication. She found that using multiple learning modalities along with real student experiences greatly improved the level of engagement and participation for all her students.
How does it work?
Each morning, Tracy formats her calendar activity by talking, drawing, and role playing highlighted student activities. She uses a large sheet of drawing paper and markers to illustrate the highlighted activities of “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow.”
Tracy begins with the usual greetings and then introduces the experiential calendar activity by asking “What day is it today?” to orient the students. She then asks what day was yesterday and proceeds to discuss the fun activity the children did the day before. She picks students to help with various aspects of the activity. Some help her name the day of the week or describe the activity, while others draw and color their involvement in it. Tracy sets the story up, and helps the students draw simple illustrations to accompany her description of the previous day’s activities, incorporating their experience in the activity. She uses this same format to address the activities of “Today” and “Tomorrow.”
What is the benefit for the children?
This multimodal approach to calendar activities builds anticipation as each student waits for a turn to add to the student-created visual representation. The visual referent of what they did “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” is a static reminder for students who have varying processing and language abilities. Students’ are also empowered through ownership of the activity as they discuss, draw and imitate words and actions. The activity also creates predictability, something that is very important to students with autism.
Tracy provided the following tips to keep in mind for those interested in developing a language experience calendar activity time: