Telling Time – A Preschooler’s Point of View


Have you ever told an upset preschooler that mommy will be back soon and noticed that this information isn’t calming the child?  Have you tried desperately to get something done and told your preschoolers that you will play with them in one hour just have them come back to you every five minutes?  Does your preschooler claim to have done one activity all day when they obviously did more than that? These scenes occur in most households because adults tend to forget that preschoolers cannot relate to the concept of time.

Time is an abstract concept and 3 & 4 year olds are concrete thinkers.   Preschoolers measure their days by relatable routines.  They find comfort in the expected.  In preschool, classes are much calmer when there is a routine that children can depend upon.  They learn very quickly, for example, that their preschool day will consist of circle time, center time, story time, snack time, playground and dismissal in that order.  The average 3 & 4 year old begins to develop an understanding of the words before and after.  A teacher comforting an upset child might say, “You will see Mommy after we have snack and play outside.”  The upset child can relate to each of those activities and use them as a sort of checklist that will lead to a reunion with Mommy.  For that reason, many teachers will hang pictures of their daily routine to provide students with a concrete, visual representation of the time between arrival and departure. 

Routines at home also help children to measure their days.  Children learn very quickly that the evening routine is dinner, bath, story and bed.   When your children ask how long until bedtime, you can recite the bedtime routine to help them understand what will be accomplished before you tuck them in.  The actual time spent on each activity can vary.  Other activities can even be added to the basic routine.  It is the sequence of the main activities that need to be consistent.  Remembering that preschoolers at approximately age 3 & 4 years old begin to understand the words before and after, you can add “play with Daddy” between dinner and bath.  Tell your preschooler that the bath will take place after playing with Daddy.  Knowing what to expect is the key for preschoolers.

A simple understanding of order is not sufficient for a child to understand the calendar.  Studies show that it takes approximately 150 hours to teach calendar to a 4 year old and approximately 5 minutes to teach calendar to an 8 year old.  Calendars can be used effectively to practice number recognition or even as a tool to learn that numbers and days occur in a predictable order.  Most early learners cannot understand the words today, tomorrow and yesterday.  Memorized songs that include the days of the week are just that – memorized songs. 

Children in this age group often report that they did one or two things all day.  Preschoolers are egocentric.  They remember only things that are important to them. Adults tend to think that because their children are young, their memories will be at their peak.  Preschoolers actually have trouble remembering.  Memory improves during their progression through the elementary school years as they become less egocentric.   Parents often get frustrated when their children will not recite every event of the day.  They will only recite events that were meaningful to them.  If your child says, “We did art all day” it really means “Art was important to me today.”  If your child recites a list of activities, you learn that many parts of the day were important to your child.  It doesn’t matter how many activities made the “Important to Me” list.  Whether it is one activity or five activities, the preschooler’s selective memory gives to a window into what made the biggest impression on your child.


Copyright 2012 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. very interesting article ....Thank you

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