It’s natural to assume that children of a certain age – say 8 or older – can tell the time. Most can.

But what about the passage of time?

Not the same thing

Telling the time and understanding the passage of time are very different things.

Most normally developing kids can tell the time by the age of 7 or so.

But if they struggle with telling the time, they will almost certainly also not understand the passage of time – i.e. what 5 minutes feels like.

My own daughter struggled with this…

Flooding the house

Despite my constant reminders that 15 minutes was enough for a shower, my 11 year old daughter had a habit of staying in there for up to an hour.

When we moved house she was first to use the new shower. but we didn’t know there were 4 different leaks on the bath! Her hour long session ended with the flooding of the downstairs when an hours worth of water dripped through to bring the lounge ceiling down.

It was clearly time to address the ’15 minutes is enough’ approach to showering. So I did a little test…

Boiling the kettle

My daughter likes to make drinks for us and for visitors, so I used this to check out her understanding of the passage of time.

‘How long does it take for the kettle to boil,’ I asked.

She ‘ummed’ and ‘arred’ for a bit and eventually said, ‘an hour and a half?’

So that was it! She clearly had no clue about the passage of time, such that me talking about 15 minutes being enough for a shower, meant nothing to her at all.

Magic solution

Having established that the passage of time was a problem, I needed a solution – how was I going to help her learn this?

My colleague, Dr Tricia Skuse, suggested using an egg timer. I found a 15 minute one in a gift shop and explained to my daughter how it worked.

The next time she took a shower, she took the egg timer, too.

And, hey presto, it worked! She was all done and out on time. Problem solved!

Final word…

It’s easy to assume that children (or even teenagers and adults) understand the passage of time. Yet many don’t.

People mean very different things when they say, ‘5 minutes’

Mum might mean 10-15 minutes in reality; Dad might mean up to half an hour. Whereas Mrs Jones the teacher probably actually means 5 minutes.

How is a kid to know? A good place to start is finding out their current understanding and using an egg timer to teach them the basics.

After that, they’ll be well on their way!

*  – Learn more about Jonny’s book here…

What do you think?…

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© Jonny Matthew 2023

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