Teaching Time Isn’t Only About Telling Time

There are tons of great products out there to help with teaching time. White board clocks, clocks with movable hands, games, etc.

But teaching time isn’t only about telling time.

When we teach children how to tell time, we are merely giving them another “reading” skill. We’re teaching them how to interpret the hands on a clock.

We also teach them how to understand what time things happen during the day. With this we’re getting closer to giving them an appreciation of what time is. But we’re still not there.

We “spend” time like we spend money.

My friend, Paul Cunningham once told me he was, “time poor.” We all have the same amount of time in each day. So why would one person be “poor” with respect to time, while others are not?

Time is relative to the “must do” work.

Parkinson’s law is: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

Which also means that if you have something that must be accomplished, and extremely limited amount of time, then you figure out a way to get it done. Which sometimes means to do it at a less than perfect quality.

Grownups experience this all the time – with work and personal tasks.

Must do it.

Must do it fast.

So do it as best as you can and be done.

Kids are required to sleep. That’s about it. Daughter sleeps 10 hours each night and about 2 hours during nap. She’s got a whopping 12 hours every day to do just about anything else!

Of course she’s corralled in various places against her (very strong) will. But nevertheless, her only “work” is to learn.

Parkinson’s law allows her all the time she can to “perfectly” learn everything she can.

Time is relative to our age.

I remember as a child understanding that Christmas was two weeks away. As an adult I can calculate that two weeks to a five-year-old is equivalent to four months as a 40-year-old!

See… I’m 14,600 days old. My nephew is 730 days old. For me, Christmas is about  of my life away. For my nephew, Christmas is  of his life away!

There are two things going on when we anticipate something in the future. As shown above, there is the amount of time we have to wait as a fraction of the amount of time we’ve been alive.

And there is also the “habit” of waiting that gets established over time. I can wait two weeks (or even four months) because I’ve done it many many times before. A five year old rarely waits two weeks for anything!

Can we teach the full appreciation of time?

These subtleties and intricacies make time a very slippery subject. Teaching all these strange bits might not be doable. But it’s important as grownups that we know that they exist for us – and they don’t exist for them.

Some of us, like Paul Cunningham, have “less time” than others.

So when you teach time – either telling time or knowing what time things happen – don’t forget that there’s so much more. And when your child is able to grasp it – share it!

Oh, and share your thoughts on this in the comments. 🙂

This post may contain affiliate links. When you use them, you support us so we can continue to provide free content!

4 Responses to Teaching Time Isn’t Only About Telling Time

  1. Some things, you have to learn for yourself. Like how fast time flies almost all the time as an adult. What kid would believe such craziness?

    That said, the idea that time is precious, and you should spend it mindfully, seems like a great thing to start teaching young so a child can learn to mold its own life.

    Just for fun, here’s another mathmatician’s take on time perception.


    Happy mathing!

    • Spending time mindfully is indeed important – and something we often forget!

      We bought Daughter a calendar for Xmas so she could learn about days. It has large squares she can color in at the beginning of the day and at the end, she can mark through the day.

      I wonder how it will go.

      Thanks so much for your thoughts and that link. It’s amazing – I’m going to put it on my resource page!

  2. I liked the distinction between teaching how to “read” the time on a various clocks and also understanding the passage of time. Another facet is coming to understand world time zones. My year six class also came up with some pretty insightful thoughts in a class discussion one day about why we have sixty seconds, 60 mintues etc, linked to resting heart beats and the purposes of having a standardised time system… who needs it and why, are their cultures that still tell time differently. WE are in Austalia and indigenous people here have ways of telling time with regard to how the sun is hitting their face. All very interesting. Their meausurement systems suit their nees, a turtle for example may be “measured” as a two person, or four person turtle depending on how many men it would take to carry or how many people it would feed.

    • Interesting, Vanessa!

      I love it when kids are given the opportunity to speculate and come up with their own ideas. That’s what mathematics is all about.

      I would love to learn more about the turtle measuring, too.


Leave a reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.