Saturday, May 5, 2012

How Many Seconds in a Minute? Introducing Preschoolers to Time

How many seconds in a minute?
Sixty, and no more in it.
How many minutes in an hour?
Sixty for sun and shower.
How many hours in a day?
Twenty-four for work and play.
How many days in a week?
Seven both to hear and speak.
How many weeks in a month?
Four, as swift as the moon runn'th.
How many months in a year?
Twelve the almanac makes clear.
How many years in an age?
One hundred says the sage.
How many ages in time?
No one knows the rhyme.
  - Christina G. Rossetti

Children hear things like, "dinner is in twelve minutes" all the time.  This is great for kids as it helps them establish a good sense of time (when the prediction is accurate more often than not).  Increase the frequency with which you give them this "warning" and you not only increase your sanity (they usually transition better when they get such warnings) but you'll increase their sense of time at an earlier age.

Digital clocks are pretty easy to read, but what time it is, usually means very little to most children under four. Even four-year-olds generally don't care about the time unless it relates to a specific activity.  The more regular your schedule, the more meaningful time becomes.  Many toddlers and preschool children are helped by having a poster that shows "times" like, "school time", "meal time", "club time", "bath time"  - etc.  make a visual representation of the things you typically do in a day (or week) and display it in a place where your child will see it a lot.  Then, refer to it when you state the actual time of day, or when you say things like, "bath time is in about 10 minutes - it will be seven-o-clock then".

Play beat the clock for children that are dawdlers.  
Although Dawdling does serve a purpose in a child's brain development, there are times when we just need them to focus and get "it" done.  Set a kitchen timer or other noisy clock ticking to help keep reminding your child he/she has a job to do.  Or, if the job is part of a routine, refer to my article, "Musical Routines".  Challenge him/her to get dressed (or other such task) before the bell rings or the song is over.  A prize can be as simple as, "yeah you did it! great job", a sticker for a sticker chart, or a token for a token jar.  For a more complex reward system where bigger rewards are earned after a certain number of stickers or tokens have been awarded you can actually offer up a cool little prize toy your child will enjoy.  Once your child gets used to this game, he or she might even enjoy learning to set the timer.  The experience of learning to read the correct numbers (even those numbers in the teens) helps to set them up for later when they're learning to count past ten.  When your child is helping you in the kitchen he/she will now also be able to do the job of setting the timer when needed.  The more practice  the better (Also Check Out "Food Math" for other mathematical advantages to having "help" while you cook).

Playing games with kids that involves a "time" element is also a meaningful way of giving your toddler or preschooler a sense of time.  If you are trying to count seconds, clapping your hands and then slapping your thighs (while sitting cross-legged) actually comes pretty close to taking a second for most of us.

Have a Calendar available in a busy room in your house you can refer to with your child.  Put it right next to the poster with your "daily" time chart or poster described above.  Make sure you use both regularly with your child.  Mark the calendar with upcoming important activities and talk about it with your preschooler.  See "Calendar Time: What the Calendar and Holidays . . . " for more information on ways to use the calendar with your kids to teach your kids.  Now that my child is in Kindergarten, I no longer use a daily schedule, but we do have a weekly one.  Check out "Schedule Boards" to see how I use this with Alice and how to make the components so you can have one right on your refrigerator.

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