When do children understand time?

Have you ever told your young child, "It'll just be a few minutes!"  when actually it will be a lot longer ?

Very young children do not have a good concept ot time, and how long things take.  Waiting for them always seems to take forever - regardless of whether it's for 2 minutes or 20 minutes. So when do they get this concept and how can we help them?

From my experiences with our girls, and backed up with what I've read, children don't get a good grasp on time until they're around  6 or 7 years old.  Before that they are learning about routines, basic o'clock times,  sequencing - what you do 'before' and 'after', and past, present and future with talk of what we did today, yesterday and what we're going to do tomorrow.

I found that a timer was a great tool for our girls to use to get an understanding of how long things take.  By showing them how to set the timer themselves,they could then watch the time ticking by, and see how long they'd already been waiting for something, and how much longer they still had to go!

They use their timer when playing on the computer for their 'set allowed time',  when taking turns playing with something they share, when helping with cooking and baking and even for doing their winter job of moving the sprinklers around the garden to water all our plants!

Then there is of course, learning to tell the time - both digital and analogue.  There is nothing better than giving your kids their own watch - they delight in being able to tell the time at any given moment! (and they do this LOTS initially when it's still a novelty!)

I also recently played some games with them of guessing how many certain things we could do in a minute!  This was lots of fun,and again gives them an understanding of how long a minute is!

But as with everything, there are some great websites with games to help kids learn:

Once they have got the basics, this site has a great game with 3 different levels:
It's another BBC website (the BBC produces some wonderful educational material) - which also has plenty of other literacy and numeracy games which are worth a look:

What things have you done to help your kids understand the concept of time?  Do you have any ideas you can share with everyone? We'd love to hear from you!


  1. Interesting post. My daughter, Amy, is still getting to grips with time at age 11. She has autism and it's something she's really struggled to understand to concept of. She can tell the time, but finds it difficult to turn the wording round from (for example) "quarter to four" to "3.45". She has to think for a while and look at the clock to imagine the hands in her head.

    CJ xx

  2. Great post. I could never understand why anyone would say just a minute when they know the wait will be much longer.
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  3. So many things we give for granted and for little kids it's like rocket science!

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