Explaining to a child they will see Grandma again next week is about as helpful as trying to explain how sight works. Teaching the concept of time is more than just saying the words, "today", "tomorrow", or the dreaded "in a minute." In fact, if kids were taught time only by words, they would probably equate a minute with the longest, most-frustrating, stretch of time ever created.
Luckily, preschoolers have a natural curiosity about time. They want to know when and how long almost as soon as they start speaking. Waiting, on the other hand, is not natural. So in order to blend the two, you will need to introduce the concept of time in ways a self-centered preschooler can grasp.
Teaching time does not seem difficult, until you try. The following ideas provide a good starting place.
Baby steps - Before a child can understand a week, or a month, they need to have experience dealing with brief holdups in day-to-day life.
Countdown - If you will be leaving the house in five minutes, offer solid proof that time is passing by calling out the minutes; "4 minutes until we leave," "3 minutes," "2 minutes," "1 minute,", "10, 9, 8, 7...." This lighthearted approach helps your child learn by experience.
Relative time - If your child loves a certain television show, use it as an indicator. For example, it will take about as long as an episode of Max and Ruby.
Special clock - You can draw your own clock on a poster board. In addition to the numbers, use pictures to add the family routine. If your child eats breakfast at 8 am, put a picture of their favorite breakfast food, and if an older sister comes home at 4 pm, then put their picture near that time. This way you can show what happens first, second, and so on until it is finally the time they are waiting to arrive.
Calendar countdown - Many homes use advent calendars to countdown the days leading up to Christmas; you can use the same concept to make a countdown calendar for any special event. When my daughter visited her grandma every Tuesday, we could cross off the days as they passed, so she could count how many more days herself.
Timers - Timers are a great way to teach the concept of time.
- Kitchen timers: We use kitchen timers to do quick clean ups around the house. You can set a timer for five minutes, and then do a "blitz," picking up toys and racing laundry to bedrooms. When the buzzer rings, not only will your child see how much can be done in five minutes, they will begin to feel how long five minutes lasts.
- Sand timers: Unbreakable sand timers are also great for "time-outs." Instead of asking how long until they can get up, your child can watch the sand drop. We make it a rule that they cannot ask how long, but they can let me know when the sand has all run out. If my son asks, then he gets an extra flip of the timer.
While going through these day-to-day activities, don't forget to actually show your child a clock. Point out the big hand and little hand, read the numbers on a digital clock together and help your child become more aware of telling time, even if they are not quite ready for that step.
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