Teaching Preschoolers about Time
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Time flies when you’re having fun, but if you've ever tried to explain to an impatient preschooler that his birthday is a week away, you'll realize that the concept of time does not come easily to children of this age. Learning the days of the week and the months of the year is standard procedure in preschool curriculum, but what can you do to help your child understand this complex concept at home?
“Time is a hard concept for preschoolers. It isn't something that they can touch, feel and explore. Without the ability to tangibly interact with time, children need adults who understand the concept to help them learn about time,” says Sheri Stults, Preschool Director at Shepherd of the Hills Christian Preschool in Centennial, Colorado. “Learning a song with the days of the week is one way. Children love to sing! Learning becomes fun and easy through music and rhyme. Children soon learn, when noted on a calendar, that Mondays are the days we go to the library. Tuesdays are the days that grandma picks me up and Saturdays and Sundays are the days I stay home and don't go to school.”
Want to get started? Try a few of these simple ideas at home to help your child grasp the complex idea of time.
Create a Calendar Purchase a calendar for your child to keep in his room. You may want to get some special stickers to mark birthdays and holidays. Write in special events such as birthday parties or school performances as well as weekly classes or events. Show your child how to mark off each day with an “X” before he goes to bed. This will make it easier to count down the days to highly anticipated days. As an added bonus, your child will also be practicing left to right correspondence (the understanding the print goes from left to right) which does not come naturally to young children.
Use “Timely” Words Use words to indicate time such as yesterday, today and tomorrow when you are talking with your child. When these words are used in context, especially in conjunction with a calendar, it helps make the concept of time more concrete. Talking with your child about his weekly schedule (for example, “We go to gymnastics on Tuesday and that is tomorrow”) and then showing him the day on the calendar will be helpful. “Definitions of time such as "next year" become more difficult because it is too long of a time for a child to wait,” Sheri Stults advises. “Words that explain 'next year,' such as 'when you turn 4' or 'when you are in Mrs. Duffy's class' help stage a framework that makes sense to a preschooler.”
Make a Countdown Chain For those very special days such as birthdays and holidays, you can make a visual and interactive countdown chain to help the time pass more quickly! Simply cut construction paper in 1”x 6” strips and help your child make a chain. Create a circle by attaching the ends with glue or tape and connect the strips by looping them through one another. Make one loop for each day and make the “big day” special by decorating it with stickers or glitter. Hang it in a prominent place and help your child tear or cut a loop off at the end of each day. Your child will delight as the chain gets shorter and the awaited day approaches!
Bring on the Books Check out some books that highlight the days of the week. After just a few readings, your child is sure to be chanting the days of the week in order! Try one of these favorites, or ask your librarian for other suggestions.
- Cookie’s Week by Cindy Ward
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Can We Play: A Pop-Up, Lift-the-Flap Story About the Days of the Week by Mara Van Der Meer
If you make a conscious effort to use words that describe time, give your child tangible time keepers such as calendars and countdown chains and read a few “timely” books, you will give your child a great start to understanding concepts of time. And by creating fun ways to keep track of schedules and celebrations, you and your child are sure to have a fabulous time together!
More preschool calendar and time activities: