Dyscalculia is a mathematical learning disorder. Being poor in math is not dyscalculia. However, struggling with basic arithmetic could be a sign of learning impairment.
Things like losing track when adding or subtracting numbers, inability to group things together, lacking number sense, or simply having a difficult time reading clocks could all be alarming signs.
Difficulties with numbers and time are common among dyscalculic children. One by-product of these difficulties is time management. It’s hard to grow up with a learning disability, let alone mismanaged time. Not having appropriate skills to manage time only adds to the pre-existing anxiety around mathematics.
Time management is crucial for maximum health and personal effectiveness. It is crucial to surviving in the modern world. In spite of the consensus, some of us don’t become good at it. Life gets busy, we lose pace and then never find the opportunity to develop organizational skills. And most of it starts in childhood.
We want our children to be well equipped, especially with managing time. But what does it mean to be good at it? What level of understanding of mathematics do we expect from an individual?
What’s being ‘good’ at time management mean?
Look around. Children are surrounded by the challenges and opportunities that require them to manage time. Be it showing up to classes in time or keeping track of their schedule. Or simply calculating how much time it takes them to get to the school bus, so they could get a head start.
Being good at time management could mean different things to different people and it may vary as per your function and where you are located. Today, children prove their competency in math and their ability to manage time by going through the schooling system. In school, they are introduced to time management and basic mathematical concepts and tested through basic arithmetic exams.
The general agreement is that if you could get through the schooling system, which teaches you to maintain a schedule and syllabus, you’re capable enough to manage time.
However, there are numerous dyscalculic children who clamber through the schooling system, carrying their time management difficulties to life after school. The good news is that most of these children could improve their condition through suitable support and intervention and get better at the understanding time and even successfully manage it.
If your child is struggling with time management, there are ways to approach the problem. But first, let’s understand how could we could introduce time management to someone struggling to understand time? Shouldn’t we start by introducing them to the basics of time and calculation first? Let’s find out.
Introducing time to dyscalculic children
Time is an abstract concept. Specific hours and minutes could be meaningless for a child who doesn’t understand clocks. Some of these children may also struggle at understanding at what pace time moves because the passage of time is tricky. It’s difficult to translate to a child how a season or a month passes between our daily lives.
Apart from the general understanding of time, your child may also struggle with reading patterns and remembering sequences. Understanding time has many components to it. For example, a child has to learn the format of the time, both the twelve-hour and twenty-four hours to understand the clocks the way we use them. Likewise, it’s important for them to be familiar with analogue and digital clocks. There is so much to learn around time.
Once the child understands the concept of time and how to calculate it, we could introduce them to more advanced skills, like organizing time. However, in the initial stages, you may not be confident on how to approach a child with something as complicated as time.
Here are some suggestions on how we can demonstrate the concept of time to a child in their initial developmental stages:
- Use a stop-clock to introduce them to a single unit of time. Give them a demo on how to calculate how many units of time were spent in a given activity.
- Help them with counting. Encourage them to use their fingers. And ask them to go beyond the last number they were stuck at. Note down the numbers they have difficulty with. Practice them in writing. Ask them how many finger counts would it take them from one room to another.
- Use clapping to show how fast a second passes and count with every clap, as to show the connection between the number of seconds with the number of times you clap. Ask them creative questions like how many claps would it take to make a cup of tea?
- Use homemade pendulums to measure how much time the swing takes to go back and forth. Ask them to measure how many swings it may take them to make their bed.
Time-related difficulties in children with dyscalculia
Seeing patterns and making connections between objects and language is something we start in childhood. We use our working memory, a tiny percentage of information, to plan cognitive tasks and to perform them successfully.
Children with time management difficulties struggle with their working memory. We could make that out by observing unusual signs in their daily activities. Like not being able to sit still or not being able to stay focused on one task. They may even have difficulty reading clocks or calculating the distance between two points.
Time management difficulties in children could both be subtle as well as obvious. For example, the child may find it hard calculating time or finishing school assignments, or estimating their location on a page while reading. They come in all variants.
Life after school in general is a little overwhelming for children. There isn’t much of the day left to fit in their schedule after they return from school. Between homework, tuition and plays, you may find children puzzled about our expectations from them. With only a few short hours to themselves, they may engage themselves in inconsistent or immature methods to calculate time. But what else they can do?
Teaching them how to schedule and prioritize their tasks could be an effective way to help them from their time-related difficulties.
Different children learn to plan their day differently. Some kids like to plan ahead. They timely complete their assignments, while others may need some support to catch up with their classmates.
Early introduction to time management is the key. It may help them prioritize, plan, begin and finish tasks. These are executive functions and appropriate guidance can help kids develop these functions. Encouraging them early on how to schedule and finish their tasks is crucial. This will help them get better at planning their days and finishing what they do start.
Time management could set children for lifelong success. However, its importance may not be so apparent to a child. A child may continue to struggle for years without being noticed by their parents or teachers.
How does a child who is struggling with time management look like in everyday life? Let’s find out.
How does the lack of time management skills Impact day to day lives of children?
Lack of organization skills could translate itself into many difficulties in day-to-day life. An unequipped child may constantly be in a rush and struggle with his punctuality. They may regularly miss the school bus or forget when their homework was due. This may drop the quality of their assignments. They may miss their deadlines or have inadequate planning for tests or forget them altogether. And it wouldn’t be too far when all the things they need to do would be put off until tomorrow. As the saying goes, tomorrow never comes. This leads to procrastination.
Procrastinating on important school assignments could be one of the glaring signs that your child has time management issues. They may constantly get distracted from trivial things, spending days chasing to complete the task and then failing at it. As a consequence, you may witness your child get burned out. They may work themselves to the bone, merely to play catch up with other children.
When we combine all of this, we would find a child with diminished assignments, low creativity, and relationship problems.
We may notice that these initial errors in their approach with time persist through, even after mastering other academic skills.
As a parent or teachers, what can we do about it?
Strategies to help children with time management
We could bring improvements to a major proportion of children with time management problems if we identify their point of difficulties early on and put appropriate interventions in place. Having a pragmatic plan to approach once you discover a child with a problem is crucial.
For example, special classes  for at-risk children before they enter the school system could play a key role in prevention. The idea is to make their first mathematical learning experiences successful.
There are strategies and skill training interventions to help these children. Let’s take a little closer look at answering how we could help children with time management difficulties. Following are some strategies:
Screening procedure: The first step to fix a difficulty is to get it diagnosed by a professional. We have learned that identifying problems early on and then putting appropriate interventions in place helps growing children with time management skills. The child should go through a screening procedure as early as possible. Ideally, an educational psychologist or assessor should carry out the screening procedure, which should include an in-depth interview. The history and the current situation of the child should be taken into consideration.
Improving instruction quality: Often the initial difficulties around time management are correlated to insufficient or low-quality instructions. Improving the quality of instruction could alleviate mathematical anxiety. Teachers and parents of early years children need effective knowledge of both the concepts they are teaching as well as the children they are dealing with. Proactive training on concepts as well as making time for children to know them better could help.
Reading Clocks: All our activities in life are time-based. To do things in time involves calculating, for which one needs to know how to read clocks. Reading clocks requires an understanding of numbers and spatial clock movements. Start by pointing at the clock hands. Introduce the child to different lengths of time. Start with 1 minute and guide them to recognize 1 hour. Prefer digital clocks over analogue in the beginning. Let them pick the format they are comfortable with; a 24 or 12-hour clock system.
Learning support: Since each child could have a unique set of difficulties related to time, they need customized learning support. An educational psychologist could plan the lessons and assign them a weekly and monthly plan. Once the child is comfortable with the basic concepts of time, we could introduce them to managing time. Avoid pushing too much information at once.
Simplifying schedule: Time management problems could be addressed by simplifying daily, weekly and monthly diaries. Dyscalculic children may seem like they are lost between their school life and life at home. Maintaining a schedule in different diaries could help them visualize what their upcoming days and schedule looks like. They could also use the diaries to document their activities and plans for upcoming weeks. You could improve it further by introducing color coding for different diaries.
Essentially, there could be three components to help children with dyscalculia and its subordinate issues; teachers, mathematics, and the child.
What’s required is an understanding of how these three components are connected. As we mentioned in improving instruction quality strategy, a good parent or a teacher needs to closely know the child who is struggling with math as well as be equally knowledgeable about the topics they are teaching. Any gaps between these three components may lead to an ineffective approach.
Getting good at time management requires a constellation of abilities that are attributed to different concepts of mathematics. A proper diagnosis through screening measures by a child psychologist could help us successfully intervene using the proven strategies.
It is important to understand the nature of the difficulty the child is facing around time management and the barriers it is creating. We also need to acknowledge that the progress children make with managing time largely depends on the culture, circumstances, and choices.
Improving time management skills could lead to gains in academic functioning. Essentially being good at math is being good at logical thinking, pattern finding, and problem-solving. And time management requires a similar set of skills.
There is enough information on ways we could manage time. All we need is to make sense of it and follow the strategies recommended by experts. As we have learned, we can address dyscalculia and difficulties in time management through appropriate education.
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- MacCann, C., Fogarty, G. J., & Roberts, R. D. (2012). Strategies for success in education: Time management is more important for part-time than full-time community college students. Learning and Individual Differences, 22(5), 618–623. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.lindif.2011.09.015
- Butterworth, B. (2003). Dyscalculia Screener [E-book]. NferNelson Pub.