What time is it? Ten days until your birthday. Five more minutes. We hear these kinds of phrases every day. But what do they actually mean, especially to children? Time plays a huge role in our daily lives and we expect our children to understand what time is and how we represent it—without us ever thinking about it or explaining what time means.
The only memory I have of learning to represent time and read a clock is a brief unit in Grade 2. I can remember struggling to learn the difference between the three hands and adding two “times” together, all while trying to understand what time represents. And when it was done, we were expected to have mastered time.
Skip 25 years into the future and we’re surrounded by digital clocks, smart phones, and computers. Who wears a watch anymore, or has a clock in their house that’s not digital? Who has a calendar hanging in their house? All these changes and advances in technology can hinder children’s understanding of time.
It doesn’t help that we say things like “5 more minutes” and 5 minutes turns into 20 before we realize it. Or when an actual 5 minutes feels like an hour—especially when we are in trouble. What about when we’re having fun and 5 minutes feels like 30 seconds?
Five minutes will always be 5 minutes on a clock. Young children learn best by having hands-on, tangible objects to visualize and manipulate, and learning about the concept of time is no different. Having egg timers and non-digital clocks around allows children to see the passing of time and get an actual sense of time.
Helping your children understand what time means and how to read a clock doesn’t have to be scary. An easy way to begin teaching your children about time is to start with recognizing the numbers on a clock and the order they go in. Talk about the different hands on a clock and what each one means and does. Show them an egg timer and how it works. When you set a time limit, set the egg timer, or show your children on a clock what the end time is. For example, if you say 5 more minutes, show your children where the big hand will be in 5 minutes.
When talking about days and weeks, it can be even harder for children to understand the passing of time. Having a calendar in your house can be a fantastic way to show time passing. If you are counting down the days to an event, your children can cross out each day on the calendar in the morning after breakfast or in the evening before bedtime, and see the number of days remaining becoming less and less.
Below is a fun countdown calendar that families made in our 3,2,1, Fun! program. You can make this calendar for any activity—Christmas countdown, birthday countdowns, special event countdowns, etc.
Paint, Markers, Crayons, Bingo Dabbers, etc.
Clothes Pins (31)
- Get your child to paint the paper plate. You can gear it toward a specific event or just general use. Our calendar examples are a birthday countdown and a countdown to Christmas
- While the paper plate dries, draw and cut out fun designs for your clothes pins. Once they are finished, number the pins from 1 – 31 (or however many pins you use)
- Glue the designs onto the ends of the clothes pins and clip the clothes pins around the edge of the plate
- Remove a pin each day, so you can see and keep track of the days left until your event or the end of the month
*** If you have younger children, you can place the pins in correct number order. For older children you can mix up the numbers (like an advent calendar).
To learn more about the 3,2,1, Fun! program, go to the Centre for Family Literacy website