Quick Tips for Teaching Time Concepts

tl;dr

  • Know what your child can understand based on their age
  • Start with morning, afternoon, and night time
  • Understand minutes and hours before learning about clocks
  • Check out our free worksheets to help children learn to tell time

Among the various concepts that children have to learn before they enter kindergarten, one of the most challenging is time. As a parent, you have probably tried to teach your young child the concept of time. Why is this such a challenge?

Child telling time

There are several reasons why kids might have trouble learning about the concept of time. Some of the reasons include:

  • Time is an abstract concept that doesn’t have a concrete shape, making this a challenge for children to embrace
  • Children have trouble learning how the numbers on the clock relate to what is happening outside
  • Children cannot relate the clock to the concepts of past, present, and future

It is hard for kids to learn about a concept that is so abstract; however, it is still an important concept for children to learn before they enter kindergarten. Around the ages of three and four, children start to be able to understand the abstract ideas related to time. If you are looking for fun and enjoyable ways to help your child learn this abstract concept, take a look at some of our strategies below!

When Can Kids Learn What?

Clearly, the concepts above are all very different. Children are able to understand them at different times. As a parent, it is important to have reasonable expectations for your child. This will help you tailor your teaching strategies and lessons to meet them where they’re at! Some of the important points to note include:

  • By the age of 2, children understand that time is an idea. They come to expect bed, meals, and bath time at certain times. They might learn the idea of “soon” and “later,” so start with these words at the age of two. 
  • At the age of three, children will come to understand past, present, and future. Try to help your child learn about the ideas of “before” and “after” with simple instructions. For example, “put your socks on before you put on your shoes.”
  • At the age of 4, children will start to use concrete words to express time on their own. Some of the common words to watch for include:
    • Before
    • After
    • Day
    • Night
    • Yesterday
    • Tomorrow
    • Later
    • Now
  • These are signs that your child can start to understand the idea of minutes and hours. This is when you can progress to the clock.

Now that these milestones are clear, how can you help your child learn the idea of time?

Teaching Morning, Afternoon, and Night

One of the first time-based concepts that children need to learn involves the idea of morning, afternoon, and night. This is an important concept for preschoolers. Try to involve these lessons around the sun and moon. Try to stay away from numbers, as this will make the lesson too complicated for kids at this age. 

You can develop lessons and games around the sun based on how its light impacts the activities of people and animals. There are ways for you to use games, songs, and even simple science experiments to discuss how the sun and moon impact activities at different times of day.

As your child starts to explore this concept further, you can help your child understand morning, afternoon, and night based on the various activities your child performs at different times of day. Then, relate these activities to what your child does.

  • For example, when your child eats breakfast, where is the sun located? This means that it is morning outside.
  • When you get picked up from daycare, where is the sun located? This means that it is afternoon.
  • Is the moon outside when you go to bed? This means that it is nighttime.

As your child gets more used to using these terms, you can associate morning, afternoon, and night with the position of the sun and moon in the sky. This will help your child learn the difference between these concepts.

Then, you can use puzzles, games, and activities to help your child solidify these concepts. For example, you can put together a matching game where your child matches the activities people are doing to the sun or moon. Having the child say “morning” or “night” during this game will help them learn these concepts.

Eventually, you can progress to teaching your child the concept of time using a clock.

Teaching Kids the Concepts of Minutes and Hours

Before you can move your child to the face of a clock, they need to learn the concepts of “now” and “later.” One of the simplest ways that you can do this is to provide them with instructions based on benchmarks in the future. For example, you can try to say, “we are going to the grocery store after your show is done.” Or, you can say, “we are going to church after breakfast.” This will help your child learn the concept that something is going to happen in the future.

After this, you can swap out those benchmarks with time increments. For example, you might say “we are going to the store in 5 minutes.” Then, you can use this instruction to help your kids learn the face of a clock.

Some of the great activities that you can use to introduce your child to a clock include:

  • Move the Hands: Kids love play-dough and tactile activities are always great for teaching kids new concepts. First, draw a large clock face with the numbers pretty far apart. Then, ask your child to pull out some play-dough. Ask them to make arrows for the hands. One should be short and the other should be long. Then, talk about what happens at different times of the day. “At 7:00 we eat breakfast.” Ask your child to move the hands to the right spot. Do this with several activities. This will help your child learn that certain activities are associated with the concept of time.
  • Match Up the Easter Eggs: This is another popular activity for teaching kids about time. Go to the Dollar Store and pick up a few plastic Easter eggs. Then, write the analog time (with the clock face) on one-half of the Easter egg with the digital time (with numbers and a colon) on the bottom. Break the eggs apart. Ask the kids to find them and match them up! This helps kids learn that there are multiple ways in which people talk about the concept of time.
  • Helping Kids Learn Minutes: The hardest part of learning how to tell time is the idea of minutes. For example, kids might not get that “2” on the clock means “ten minutes after the hour.” One great idea is to use a layered clock. Explain to your child that the numbers have “secret identities.” This gets the imagination going. Then, ask kids to peel back the first layer to expose the secret identity. This can help kids learn about minutes.

These activities can help your children learn how to tell time.

Mastering the Concept of Time

When it comes to teaching kids about time, there is a lot to cover. It can be hard for parents to cover all of these concepts with their kids. It takes time, patience, and a little bit of creativity! Check out our free printables to help learn to tell time. With these strategies, you can teach your child, too!

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