Time is an abstract concept for young children. It is not tangible such as playing with toys or eating a tasty snack. It is not the same as seeing different colors or counting apples and oranges. Thus, the concept of time is often more difficult for young children to understand.
Many young children have difficulty understanding the concept of time in terms of year, month, day, hour, etc. But young children can and do understand simple temporal words or phrases expressing a time of day such as "in the morning" or "at night," expressing tenses such as "before" or "after," and expressing periods such as "a long time" or "in a while."
These temporal concepts can be associated with everything we do, from the moment we wake to before we fall asleep, but only so long as you remember to use them. Use them as much as possible throughout the day—insert them whenever you can. This is when, where, and how your child's concept of time begins.
- 1. Perceive Morning and Night
- 2. Understand Time through Stories
- 3. Embed Time in Daily Routines
- 4. Use Tools to Help
1. Perceive Morning and Night
When your child wakes up in the morning, ask him to report the weather. Have him start the sentence with "today's weather is." Ask him to observe what each family member is doing in the morning, then describe using "in the morning, mom is," or "in the morning, dad is." On the way to kindergarten, ask him to describe who he saw or heard. Try starting with "this morning I saw," or "this morning I heard."
When your child comes home every day, ask her to talk about her day at kindergarten. Get her using "today at kindergarten I." Later in the day ask her to describe what each member of your family is doing. Guide her to start with "at night mommy and daddy are" or "at night my little brother or sister is."
2. Understand Time through Stories
Among children's literature, there are some classic tales that children never tire of hearing. Many of these classics begin with "once upon a time," "a long, long time ago," or "one day." So the next time you finish saying one of these classic openings, help your child understand the meaning behind it. Remind him to pay particular attention to how time is accounted for in the story; help him understand what the difference is between a long, long time ago and yesterday.
When the story ends, ask your child to recount the story's plotline. Guide her to use the phrases "the story begins with," "and then," "in the middle," and "the story ends with." Make sure your child understands the chain of events in the story. It's okay if she doesn't get it chronologically correct the first time, she's bound to hear the story more than once.
3. Embed Time in Daily Routines
Whether it's time for your child to stop playing, stop watching TV, or go to bed, you can use these routines to teach him the short-term concept of "in just a minute." Alternatively, you could also ask him, "What are you supposed to do in the next few minutes?" Your child will naturally become aware of the time requirements for particular routines, and will gradually develop a sense of what to do at what time, for how long, or in how long.
4. Use Tools to Help
Additionally, there are some easy ways to help your child visualize time using simple, everyday tools. For instance, mark the 8 o'clock position on an analog clock, and tell your child that when the short hand gets to the marker, it's time for her to go to kindergarten. Set markers for playtime, dinner time, bedtime, or any other important but consistent time of day an event occurs in your family.
Another way to help your child visualize time is with the hourglass. Next time your child brushes his teeth, prepare an hourglass and tell him that he should brush his teeth for as long as the sand is trickling. But don't use the hourglass too often, especially for fun things, because it might instill a sense of anxiety that something fun is about to come to an end.
So what time is a good time to teach your child the concept of time? The answer to this question seems to be there's never a bad time, but rather, it's a good idea to do it all the time.