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Ideas to practice sense of time with children

Aug 30, 2021

Sense of time for young children is a difficult concept, because it is abstract - and up to the age of ~6 children's brain is not able to abstract. But waiting and patience are skills that we can all nurture and exercise from an early age.

We are full-time travelers and patience is a side effect: Oliver and Emily are very patient, because they've had endless opportunities to practice patience. But even in everyday life there are many occasions: a longer car journey, the queue at the supermarket or at the bank, a holiday by train, an exhibit at the museum, sitting down to wait for the sun to set… if you get into the habit of practicing the sense of time with your children on every occasion, patience will follow.

Here are some simple ideas that we put into practice every day to exercise the sense of time (they're focused on traveling, but you can adapt them for your everyday):

  • Prepare well in advance: if you have a long (or any) journey, remind the child several times before leaving and offer details.
  • Repeat several times how long each part of the journey will be: "1h to the park where we have lunch, and then 2.5h to our destination". Break it into smaller parts if you can.
  • Use time references that they know: “The trip will be as long as 2 swimming lessons”.
  • Create a dedciated playlist with songs and audio stories that is as long as the journey: “If you listen to your entire playlist once, then we're there!”.
  • Give the child an hourglass: “The sand has to make X turns and then we've arrived. Every time the sand finishes, turn it around and we'll count together”.
  • Give the child a clock where they can see hours and minutes: "When the short hand is on 3 and the long one is on 30, we have arrived!".
  • When they ask "When are we there?" answer sincerely: "It'll take are 2 and a half hours" (always answer honestly, even if they ask "Is it long?").
  • Avoid "We're almost there" unless you're really almost there (just a few minutes left): use time references, instead.
  • Use a timer for 10-15 minutes (a time that the child tolerates well): "When the timer rings 4 times, we are there" (help them keep track)
  • Reserve the TV time of the week for a long trip: “What do you say if for 5 days we won't watch Curious George and so in the car you can watch a LONG movie! How about that?”. They'll accept if the alternative is tempting enough 😉

And now… how do you explain 5 days to a child? I use a simple DIY calendar to explain how many days are left to an event. You can read about it here below, in the recommended posts.

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