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5 Practical Way to Teach Kids Time Concepts at Home

I had a question from a parent about how to teach time to her child with special needs.  She showed me the types of questions from his worksheet having him calculate duration of time.  Spending my primary and secondary school life in Malaysia, I know the importance of worksheets to teachers and parents.  Being able to get all the answers correct on a worksheet seems to indicate the individual's mastery of the skill. But I would like to throw out the question of, "Does it really?"

Back to the topic of teaching time concepts.

It was a great question because really, how do you teach a concept so abstract to someone who struggles with things not concrete? If you really think about it, TIME is not something you can see, nor touch, nor explain.. some people even say time is relative, not a constant.

So before we even go into the practical ideas of how to help a child understand how to learn to tell time and calculate duration of time, let's first think about time in our own lives and stop to think about how we experience time.

How do we experience time?

By looking at our phone lo, looking out the window, sitting in rush hour traffic jam lo… erm, some more what… changes in my schedule and the schedules of my family lo - must fetch here, fetch there. Sometimes my body will automatically wake me up at 6:30am so I guess I feel time lo.

Without the clock, what happens in our day that tells us that time is moving?

Daily schedules, meal times (when we feel hungry [like always]), weather (the sun and how hot or cool the day is), the radio DJ, the birds that sing in the morning and in the evening (especially the big black ones that hide in the trees).

Why is time so important to us?

We wont get things done if we don't follow time. We'll always be late for things (!!). We set goals and with out goals there is a time component involved (for procrastinators, the time component is "rubber time" - very flexible:P) Haiya, time is very important lo! Time = money!! And we seem to always not have enough time… hmmm...

So we as adults, basically learned time because we experience it. However, we don't only experience it but we have connected time with VALUE. Regardless of how we value time, some of us feel like we have a lot of it, most of us feel we dont have enough of it - it is valued and that's why it matters.

Our children also experience time -  they see the sun rise, hear the black bird sing, get hungry a few times a day, hear school bells ring, see mummy and daddy dress to go to work, see mummy and daddy come back from work, see their favourite TV show start…etc.

They experience time just as we do.


Do they draw a connection between time and its value? 

What are we doing to help them understand its value?

Are completing worksheets helping them make that time - value connection?

I am a huge supporter that most of learning happens during our daily lives, through our experiences, from things we absorb around us and how the people around introduce it to us.  If this is so, then we should take these every day moments as an avenue for exposure and to heighten awareness.

After throwing out that Food for Thought, let's get practical with a few ideas we can carry out at home to help make a time - value connection and build upon the concept with helping our child understand reading time and duration.

5 Practical Ideas to Carry Out at Home

1) Talk about time

"I will pick you up in 1 hour. It is now 2.30, I'll see you at 3.30" The more you talk about it, draw attention to it, the more it will absorb in.  You'll be surprised. Don't underestimate your child's ability to grasp something just by watching you and hearing you constantly talk about it, regardless of their disability (That can also be a scary thought.)  Point to the clock, watch, the sun, talk to them first in hours, then slowly introduce them to half hours and 5 minute jumps.

2) Use an analog clock or an iPad app

Using an analog clock helps your child visually see the long hand move one round signifying one hour.  I personally feel that the introduction to time should be visual and at times the digital clock may seem too "Mathematical" because all they see is the changing of numbers. BUT with that being said, individuals with Autism have awed me time and time again due to how differently they view the world, so there may be interesting individuals who finds 'time' easier to decipher on a digital clock. Which way works best is for you to explore with your child.

3) Use movies, TV shows and enjoyable events to bring about the concept of duration

Turn the "When.. is it happening / showing / are we reaching?" into great moments to teach time.  Again, standing by the idea that the more you expose them to something, the better they learn it; talk to your children about when those exciting things are happening.  Your conversation can look a little something like this:

"Mum, when is "The Legend of Korra" starting?"

"Come here, let's see what time it is now." "Ah, it is now 2.10pm, 'The Legend of Korra' starts at 3.30pm. From 2.10 to 3.10 is one hour, and 3.10 to 3.30 is… hmm let's count in tens - 10 (tap on your head to indicate that we keep that in our minds but don't count it)…20…30 (you can use your fingers to signify 10)…20 minutes. 1 hour and 20 minutes until 'Kora' starts." "Look at the clock, (great time to bring up your time app showing 3.30pm) this is how 3.30pm looks like, then your movie will start."

4) Let them plan their own "Home Free-time"

Allow them to build and plan their own "free time schedule".  You can make it visual by making clocks or timelines where they can see how long.  Their free time can be a few different activities - some for a duration they can choose (Legos for half an hour), some that is of a fixed time (TV time, one program).  They will then fit their "free time schedule" with activities and durations as well.  I will make another post to build a "Free Time Schedule" in detail with templates if it is something of interest. But hopefully this will give you some ideas.

5) Give them little tasks where they have to watch the clock

Whether it be steaming fish, cooking rice, doing the laundry, look for little tasks they can do that requires them to watch the clock.  Whether it be 15 minutes or 25 minutes, let them be the ones who are in charge of telling you when the time is up. This will help give them a sense of duration and that sensing will build over time.

Picture and idea by Please go to website for free downloadable template.

Here is also a blog I stumbled upon on Pinterest that I think is a FANTASTIC idea for teaching time.  It also comes with a free printable template so you can easily print and implement at home.

I hope this is helpful for you.  Let me know if there's anything else you want ideas on.  Happy teaching and learning!

Let's learn together,


Pictures courtesy of

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