When I posted the link to Monday's piece on my Facebook profile a friend commented that she knew someone who used the jar-and-bead method to help her child countdown days until her dad's return from deployment to Iraq. I thought this was a wonderful and tangible way to help a younger child "see" the passage of time--something so many small children have trouble doing.
Her comment reminded me immediately of a countdown calendar we made for L., when he was just barely four years old. I still have the calendar tucked into a keepsake folder containing odds and ends from T.'s surgery when she was six months old. After her nearly seven-hour operation, T. was hospitalized for five days, and I spent them all with her. On Day One out of the PICU unit I asked the hospital to change out the scary metal high-sided hospital crib for a bed, and I slept with her each night, curling my body protectively around her while she tossed and thrashed. During the day Scott's mom would bring L. by to visit, and he'd hang out with us in the hospital room, but the nights were excruciatingly difficult for him to get through. Before we left for the hospital I made a calendar, and blocked out the days we would be gone. For each day of the week I wrote in a treat he would get: ice cream one day, a small toy the next, a special outing, and so on. We hung the calendar on the wall next to his bed and attached a red crayon to a string so it could hang near the chart and X out the days as they went by.
We didn't know then how difficult marking time would be for L.; that he would go on to struggle with concepts of time, for years and years (he still does), long beyond his early schooling. Yet instinctively we had a sense that making that calendar would be empowering for him; that he'd better understand how to get through the days if he could see them tangibly, and interact with them.
We still use calendars and time charts today--perhaps not as often as we should. L.'s gotten a little better at telling time, but still struggles with time as a concept. My friend's comment the other day reminded me how important it can be to revisit some of the tricks we might have used when L. was young--a little tweaking, a little creative repackaging, and they can still go a long way in helping him become a master over his time.