Thursday, September 18, 2014

What time is it?

There's no time like the present, Time on your hands, Time flies when you're having fun - - - talk about abstract! How do we explain and teach time to children?

The concept of time is one of the most challenging to teach and for children to grasp. Time consists of divisions which include - the clock, the calendar, seasons/weather and how all this fits into our lives. Although time is linear, it is also cyclical which makes it a concept both concrete and abstract. No wonder some of us struggle with it. Understanding time must be tangible and meaningful to children. That's the challenge - here are some ideas on how get started.

As you know, I believe in setting up children for success. So I like to tackle the broader concepts first. Starting with the seasons and weather which is a great way to begin building an understanding of time. We had a dress the bear activity that connected observation of the day's weather, season of the year and appropriate dress. This linked well with what they needed to know for their day. On a hot summer day we'd put shorts and a t-shirt or a swimsuit on our bear. On a cool fall day it was pants and a sweatshirt with tennies. If it was a rainy spring day we'd get on the rain gear. Jesse Bear, What Will You Wear? is a wonderful book which explores this concept of dressing for the weather and making choices. Also, there is a lot of support materials featuring Jesse Bear - coloring sheet and other activities which you can find with an internet search. We had a wooden puzzle that also featured bears (a boy and a girl) and clothing choices that highlighted dressing for the weather or the season of the year. Seasons and weather are visual, tangible concepts that children relate to on a personal level.

Introducing the calendar flows very easily from the concepts of seasons and weather. My approach was to use a large poster sized calendar which was able to switch from month to month. While you can buy commercial classroom or home calendars with movable numbers, month labels and other additional items - I liked to make my own. Each month had it's own "flavor" with a general theme, dates with special occasions were highlighted, and we also kept track of our own schedule on this calendar. Our weekly trips to the library, swim or music lessons were noted along with other events such as birthdays, holidays, special outings, vacations, and other non-repeating activities. When children see how the calendar and the daily or weekly routine work together it supports the concept of time. There are many songs, fingerplays and books that feature days of the week or months of the year. Check them out!

A sense of time can start with understanding sequence and relational time events for young children. Relating time to known events is a great way of opening the door to the concept of time because it is meaningful and functional for the child. If they already know that their music class is 30 minutes long this can be used to explain the length of another event. So as you start to explain about time using relational events - length of a class, TV show, the amount of time it takes to drive to school, length of a song, etc. Talk about the actual time, the time it will take to accomplish the activity and then relate that to a known time frame for them. It isn't until about the age of 5 to 6 that the concept of time really starts to gel. Although teaching about the clock starts as early as preschool it isn't until 1st or 2nd grade that this really starts to make sense. I currently care for a 1st grader who loves to ask either on the way to school or the way home "what time is it?" When heading to school he really wants to know if he will have time to go to the computer lab before school starts. Afterschool he is calculating how much time we'll have to play a game or do an activity before I leave. Clever guy!

As with any new concept they'll need to practice and you'll need patience. Continue the routine of working on these ideas and you'll soon see the benefits.

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