Provincial Outreach Program for Students with Deafblindness

Using Calendar Systems

1. Present object cue immediately before an activity

When beginning to teach a learner with deaflbindness to associate an object with the activity it represents, present the object immediately before the activity and refer to it several times throughout the activity. Understanding the meaning of the cue is best learned when it is relevant to the activity and it is used in the activity itself. For example:

  • Using a bean bag as a cue for gym is only effective if the bean bag is used at the start of every gym period. The child should play a short game with the bean bag as the first activity every time they go to the gym. When this part of the routine is finished, the child can join the activity the other children are doing that day.

Examples of object cues:



Examples of tactile cues:


Examples of line drawings (homemade & Boardmaker):


2. A finished box/basket/bag should be used with the calendar system

When the activity is over, help the child place the object cue in the finished box. Sign and say "finished." Help the child to co-actively sign "finished." Present the next cue for the next activity.

Some examples of finished boxes/baskets/bags:


3. Put cues in a 3-step sequence from left to right

When the student recognizes some of the cues, they can then be placed into a sequence to indicate an order to a specific span of time. Start with three activities and discuss what you will be doing with the learner. Take the first cue from a set of calendar boxes and use it in the activity. Bring the cue to the finished box and communicate "finished" when the activity is complete. Check the calendar box by showing the learner that the first box is empty. "What's next?" Check the second box. "It's time for _____!" When you have used all three cues and the boxes are empty, repeat with the next three activities until the end of the day.

Example of a 3-sequence box:

When the learner begins to look to the next box or shows signs of anticipating the coming activities, the number of cues being presented can be expanded. The maximum number of cues available will depend on the learner's unique needs and abilities.

Examples of Calendars:


Object cue calendar system (above)

Object cue calendar system (above)


Object cues paired with line drawings calendar systems (above)

Line drawing calendar system (above)

Digital calendar system (above)


Weekly calendar system (above)

Calendars in action! (above)


4. Gradually transition from object cues to two-dimensional representations

When the learner has a solid understanding of the object cue's meaning, the team may consider helping the learner transfer the meaning of the object cue to a two-dimensional representation. Below are examples of different two-dimensional representations:

  • Trace the object with the learner and colour the picture to resemble the original

Tracings help the learner begin to associate the object with a two-dimensional representation of that object. Ensure that you and the learner make the tracing together so that s/he is actively involved. Compare the tracing to the original often, commenting on the similarities. Adding a bit of tactile information to the tracing can make the transition easier for the learner. For example, one student traced his swim trunks and coloured them to match the real object. His intervenor added a small cord tied in a bow to simulate the tie on his trunks.

Examples of moving from object cues to line drawings using tracing


  • If the learner cannot use a visual system, consider mounting the object cue on a card or using associate objects (e.g. small pieces of the original, such as a cup handle to represent the cup or textures to represent a larger object)

Observe the learner when s/he explores objects to see if s/he is identifying objects by their texture or by their shape. This will guide you in selecting appropriate tactile cues.

Examples of mounted tactile cues:


Example of downsizing mounted tactile cues:

5. Present both the object and the two-dimensional representation together when introducing the activity

Initially, offer the object cue first, then pair with the two-dimensional representation.


6. Gradually fade out the use of the object

Present the two-dimensional representation first. Look for recognition of the new cue. If the learner does not respond, present the familiar object cue and carry on with the activity. As the learner shows recognition of the two-dimensional representation, present it without the object.


7. When the learner is ready, pair the two-dimensional representation with photos

  • Take photographs of exact objects used in the calendar system by the learner

Ensure the photograph is of good quality (e.g. clear and focused photos, the cue is the only item in the photo, free from visual clutter, good contrast between the item and the background, do not substitute similar items for the actual cue)

Initially, offer the two-dimensional presentation first, then pair with the photo




8. Gradually fade out the two-dimensional representation

Present the photo first. Look for recognition of the new cue. If the learner does not respond, present the familiar two-dimensional representation and carry on with the activity. As the learner shows recognition of the photo, present it without the two-dimensional representation.

Examples of two-dimensional representation:


9. When the learner is ready, pair the photo with a line drawing/Boardmaker pic

Use the same sequence of pairing and fading the photo.

Examples of drawing cue to boardmaker-style pic:



10. Print or Braille the word on a cue card

Initially, this is done for exposure only. Bring the learner's attention to the print or Braille. Try covering the picture or tactile symbol and focus on the words alone.

11. Cut the word off the cue card and pair it in the same way described above and gradually fade out the picture.

Start by playing games, such as matching the word to the picture. If the cues are stored in a choice book or on a chart, have a copy of the picture and the word permanently placed in the book. Involve the student in putting the words away at the end of the day by matching them to the picture in the book.

General Notes on Calendar Systems

  • Consider using an object cue when introducing a new activity, even though the student is using more abstract cues for most of his/her calendar system. This provides an opportunity to learn the functional use of the cue within the activity. Move to an abstract cue when the learner is ready.
  • The use of object cues or abstract cues depends on the learner's unique needs and abilities.


1. How many cues should I start with?

The number of cues depends on the number of activities that the learner participates in, during the day (e.g. one cue for each activity). These cues are the learner's words and s/he needs exposure to these words in order to learn them. If we give the learner words for one or two activities only, how will s/he anticipate the many other activities s/he is engaged in throughout the day?  

2. How do I choose a cue?

Object cues must have meaning and relevance to the learner, not necessarily to the staff supporting the student. Think about the learner's experience of the activity. For example, keys may be considered a good object cue for the car, but what experience does the learner have with keys? Does the learner use the keys to unlock the door or start the car? If so, it might be a good cue. If the learner does not have experience with car keys, it will not be a good cue. Think about the cue from the learner's perspective. Perhaps the child likes to feel the seatbelt when riding in the car, perhaps a small piece of an old seatbelt could be used. If the learner has a favourite toy that is only used when riding in the car, this could be the cue.