Time is an abstract concept that is difficult for young children to understand. When my son Daniel was still in preschool, he would tell me about things he did weeks ago and start his sentences with, “Alam mo, Mommy, kanina…”
Marah Vasquez-Estuesta, part owner and administrator of Mindbuilders Preschool, affirms that all children go through the stage of being confused about time. “Young kids have difficulty reading and measuring time since time involves three indicators of the measures—second, minute and hour—moving in a circular manner, compared to linear measurements such as height, length, and distance.” Correspondingly, Myla Lee-Tolentino, a family life and child specialist and school directress at the Pail and Shovel Integrated School, explains, “Preschoolers have little concept of conventional time. They also will not have an understanding of instruction in relation to time until they are well over seven or eight years old.”
Phases Tolentino and Estuesta provide the following time-concept stages young children go through: • During the first two years, a child begins to understand the concept of day and night. He can follow simple routines and pay attention to changes in the weather (e.g. rainy, sunny, stormy, etc.) • By the age of three to three-and-a-half, a child’s understanding of time becomes more personal and subjective. He now uses time words such as those used for sequence (“I am the first”), frequency (“I eat five times”), rhythm (“Every Monday is P.E. day”), and duration (“It’s taking a long time”).
At four or five years old, a child can now recall past events and plan for the future. He can arrange events of a day and use words such as “day,” “week,” “time,” “every day,” or “next week” when he actually means “in a minute.” He is also starting to have a sense of birthdays and holidays. • During the fifth and sixth years, a child is more aware of past events and future ones. He can now tell the days of the week, what day it is, what day comes next, what time he usually eats or sleeps, and what’s the date on the calendar. Although he is now more familiar with telling time by the hour, half, and quarter, there are moments when he will still have difficulty grasping the idea fully. • By age six, a child is now ready for instruction in time concepts and likes to think about things in sequential patterns. • Beyond seven years old, real competence with the clock will be evident in children provided that this is supported by having consistent, cyclical, recurring, and sequential events of their day. “Mastering the concept of time doesn’t generally develop until the later elementary years,” states Estuesta.
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