The most brilliant minds of philosophy and physics have long pondered the question ‘What is time?’. Famous disputes on the absolute or relative nature of time, such as that between Newton who believed humans could only perceive time in relation to the physical movement of objects like the sun and the moon, and Leibnitz, believing that time is purely a mathematical concept, continue to echo across the centuries.
Psychologists have mostly ignored the debate, and focused on trying to study the psychological reality of time through the feelings and behaviors of humans faced with the passage of time. As Bergson (1968) says, ‘time is purely and simply an item of data relating to our experience… and we want to hold onto that experience’. Studies have shown that kids around the age of 8 start to grasp the measurable and mathematical concept of time, whereas younger kids are better at perceiving relative time. (Source: Sylvie Droit-Volet, The British Psychological Society.)
The Blog Because We Homeschool has a really nice post about helping kids develop a sense of time. We may have all experienced the wacky perceptions of time that our kids put forth such as announcing every day, “My birthday is tomorrow!” or “When I grow older than you, mom…”
There are some really nice ideas in the post, like having the kids write their own history or a timeline of their life/week or day with memorable events, going through photo albums together, comparing time to known quantities such as “5 minutes is the time it takes to walk to the playground,” and examining artifacts from their own lives: go through their room and examine objects that might remind them of a special time then place the objects in chronological order (if possible.)
Scholastic has a great article on how and when children typically develop a sense of time and how to use children’s personal experiences to help them understand time concepts: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/articles/teaching-content/ages-stages-how-children-develop-sense-time
Send us a message if you have your own ideas on teaching kids about time, or if you have other fun links to share.