Telling time

How to teach children about the concept of time

Time is a tough concept for preschoolers. Forget reading an analog clock, it’s hard to make a four-year-old that something is going to happen next week. There are ways to help your child understand how time passes.

Defining Time

When we talk about time, we talk about it like it’s a noun. A minute is a thing, like a car, or a cat or a house. But your child can touch the cat. He can ride in the car. She can go in the house. But no one can touch a minute, or an hour, or even a day. So the first step in teaching your child about time is to teach them what time is.

Managing Minutes

Many cell phones have a timer on them. If your phone does not, pull out a cooking timer. Choose an activity. It might be a fun activity such as coloring, or it might be more of a chore like picking up toys. Tell your child that you are going to set the timer for one minute and shout “Go!” as you start the timer. Do the activity until the timer goes off. Ask your child how long that was. Then move on to a new activity for a minute. Go for a variety of things. Try sitting silent for a minute, or walking around the room for a minute. Try running in place or bouncing a ball for a minute.

This activity does two things. First of all, it familiarizes your child with the concept of a minute. But it also shows your child that a minute can feel different. If you are playing with a favorite toy for a minute, it seems to go by quickly. But if you are sitting quietly for a minute, it seems to take a long time.

Comparing Time.

Helping your child to plan, and ultimately to manage time is a huge accomplishment. You can do that by helping him understand when things will occur. For this, you need to have a small white board and a clock that is low enough for your child to see. For this activity, a digital clock works best. Talk to your child about a future even that will happen that day. Perhaps you and your child will go to the park at 3:00. Then write the time “3:00” near the bottom of the white board. Above that time, write “2:00, 1:00, 12:00” and so on until you have listed all the half hour times between the current time and the planned outing.

As each half hour passes, give the child an eraser and let him erase each time that has passed until the time for the outing arrives. As your child becomes more familiar with the process, point out when the numbers on the digital clock match the numbers on the white board. Point out that every time you erase a number, an hour has passed. When this becomes easy for your child add in half and quarter hours.

Counting the Days

“How many days until Christmas?” How many days until my birthday?” How many days until. . .” These are questions that every parent deals with every day. But you don’t have to worry about it. There are two fun ways to help your child count the days.

If the questioned date is far in the future, consider getting or printing out a calendar for your child. You can hang the calendar low, so that your child can reach it. Circle the day your child is waiting for. Count the number of days until the event occurs. Give your child a crayon and let her cross off each day before she goes to bed, and count the remaining days.

If the event is within a few weeks, consider making a calendar chain. Cut strips of paper and write a number on each slip. Write “Todays the day!” on one strip. Link the strips together like a paper Christmas chain. Start with the “Today’s the day!” strip followed by the number one and ending with highest number you need. Place the chain near the breakfast table. Allow your child to tear off a single link each morning. The new number at the bottom of the chain is the number of days left until the event.

All in a Day’s Work

Another way to help your child get a handle on time is to help her schedule her day. Start by taking pictures of your child doing normal daily activities such as eating breakfast, reading a story, or getting ready for bed. Print small copies of the pictures. Glue them to one side of a long sheet of paper. The next morning, write down the approximate time your child does each of the tasks. Use the schedule to help your child see the order of her day.

You can make a comparative schedule by following your child for two or three days in a row. This way, both you and your child can see that he doesn’t do things at exactly the same time every day. That there is a certain amount of randomness that is part of a normal day.

Time Matching

Once you have the schedule and pictures, you can turn them into a fun matching game. Just glue the pictures on to three by five cards. Write the times your child does each activity on separate cards. Turn the cards over and “shuffle” them. Lay them out, face down, in a grid pattern on the table. The first player turns over two cards. If the activity takes place at the time on the second card, that player gets to keep both cards and take another turn. If the cards don’t match, the player turns the cards back over and the next player takes a turn. Play continues until all the cards have been taken. The person with the most cards at the end of the game wins.

Helping your preschool child explore the concept of time prepares her to get into the math of reading a clock and adding and subtracting minutes. Playing these fun games gives your child the edge long before school starts.

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