Children have no sense of time. My kids refer to any event that has happened in the past as “last-year-yesterday-a-couple-weeks-ago.” As in, every time we pass a certain swampy area of the neighborhood, my daughter will say, “Mom, Remember last-year-yesterday-a-couple-weeks-ago when I was a little baby and I got stuck in the mud and lost my boots and that fireman had to rescue me?” (True story, but as I remember it, I just didn’t have on boots or feel like getting covered in mud and my very kind neighbor, who is not a fireman but had a pair of high muck boots, volunteered to go in after her.)
Because long term memories do not begin to develop in children until around age three, time is an abstract concept impossible for a toddler to comprehend. Their limbic system may shoot them flash memories of events that took place a while back, but the memories are hazy and hard to latch on to. They may remember an exciting or traumatic event but they have no understanding of temporal concepts. They can place the “what” but can’t conceive of the “when” or place memories chronologically in time.
By age three or four, time concepts should begin to develop through daily routines, events like big holidays and seasonal changes, but they’ll still wake up the morning after Christmas and ask, “Is today Trick-or-Treat?” or wrap up a fun day swimming at the lake with “Tomorrow can we go ice skating?”
With structured activities and schedules, preschoolers will begin to grasp “before and after”, “now and later” or “yesterday and tomorrow” but duration or the speed at which time passes is still an abstract concept. “Just one minute”, “Ten minutes till nap time” and “Stop packing your suitcase. We’re not leaving for vacation for three more weeks!” are still way beyond their comprehension.
Even the concepts of age and growth are difficult to grasp. At some point, every parents hears their kid say, “When I was bigger I use to ______” or “When I’m a grown up and you’re the baby, I’m going to ______”. In their minds “big”, “more”, “faster” and “older” are pretty much the same, as are “small”, “less”, “slower” and “younger”. Point out a big dog and small dog and ask them which one is older. Nine times out of ten, they’ll choose the bigger one.
In short, kids will need time and many gradual life experiences to absorb the notion of time. But, you can help them along with some fun activities, the regular discussion of daily benchmarks (placing daily activities, such as breakfast, play lunch, nap, dinner, bath, in chronological order) and by choosing the right words.
For Example: “We’ll leave for Grandma’s after you pick up your LEGOs and put on your socks and shoes.” makes much more sense to a four-year-old than “You have 5 minutes to pick up your toys and get dressed or you’ll never see Grandma again!”
And. Remember, time flies when you’re having fun! So, here are a few fun STEM activities to get you started…
These Activities Can Help to Enhance:
– Understanding of the Concept of Time
– Counting Skills
– Spacial Reasoning
– Fine Motor Skills
– Coordination and muscle development
COST: $0 – $15.00
– Sidewalk Chalk or Cement Paint and Painters Tape
– Stop Watch (optional)
– Paper and markers (or dry erase or chalk board)
1. Draw a chalk race track or paint a permanent one on cement garage floor, basement floor or on any smooth paved surface.
2. Make parking spots of various sizes that will fit various bikes, riding toys, baby strollers, wagons and toy trucks and cars, and ask kids to “park” their toys in the spots that best match the various sized spaces.
3. Use a stop watch or count out loud to time how long it takes your kids to walk around the track; then run, bike, scooter, skate, pull a wagon, hop, skip, crab walk, walk backwards, push a toy car or doll stroller ….
ACTIVITY ENHANCEMENT IDEAS: Create a chart to track their times. (You can use paper, dry erase board, chalk board or just write on the ground with sidewalk chalk.) Have them repeat activities and work together to chart multiple times.
Ask questions such as these, using a variety of quantitative vocabulary words (less/more, faster/slower, longer/shorter):
– Was this time running faster or slower than last time?
– Did it take you more time to get around the track skipping or running?
– Which way did you get around the track the quickest?
– Does it take more time to walk backwards or forwards?
– Is 27 seconds longer or shorter than 30 seconds?
– Were you faster pushing the wagon or pulling the wagon?
– Why do you think you were slower when you pulled something heavy in the wagon?
You can also introduce kids to the idea of counting backwards and forwards by having them take turns directing one another line at the starting line and counting down to the start. “On your marks. Get ready. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1… Go!”
PERMANENT/PAINTED RACE TRACK HOW-TO:
– Tape off road design using on-stick painters tape.
– Use a small paint roller to roll on dark paint color between the tape lines. (I recommend cement or floor paint.)
– Remove tape when paint is dry.
– Add accents, such a starting line, center lines, arrows and parking spaces. (TIP: Small cans of glow-in-the-dark paint in bright colors are available at most local hardware stores and look really cool when used to paint center lines!)
READ ALL ABOUT IT:
Cookie’s Week, by Cindy Ward
Game Time, by Stuart Murphy
More or Less, by Stuart Murphy
The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
I.Q., It’s Time, by Mary Ann Fraser
Can We Play: A Pop-Up, Lift-the-Flap Story About the Days of the Week, by Mara Van Der Meer
Hopscotch, Hangman, Hot Potato, & Ha Ha Ha: A Rulebook of Children’s Games, by Jack Macguire
What Time is it Mr. Crocodile?, by Judy Sierra
A Second is a Hiccup, by Hazel Hutchins & Kady McDonald Denton