Once your child has the ability to feel and tell time, you can begin to teach calculating and estimating time.
The ability to know exactly how much time has passed or will pass between designated moments is necessary in life. Unfortunately, many of our students treat this calculation as an addition or subtraction problem from math class.
Say a student returns home at 6:00pm and should go to bed at 10:00pm. When asked how many hours they have between home and bed, they quickly answer 4 hours. 10-6=4. That’s easy. But if I ask them how many hours they sleep if they go to bed at 10:00pm and awake at 6:00am, an alarming number will tell me 4 hours! They try to use base 10 math to solve calculations of time –which is not base 10. Even more difficult for them is calculating the time that will pass between 9:45pm and 7:15am or, if it’s 2:30pm, how much time has passed since 8:15am.
Actively teaching the “addition” and “subtraction” of time is an activity that should occur in every home and classroom. Use an analogue clock and write on the face with a dry erase marker to help students “see” the time elapsed. Using fingers to count is fine at any age if that’s what it takes to make an accurate calculation. Make sure your child can calculate time increments both forward and backward, am and pm and crossing 12:00. Within your daily conversation, talk about how many hours it has been since an event or until an event. Do so for hours within a day, between days, between weeks and between months.
Estimating time is a “Goldilocks” skill – you don’t want to take too much time, you don’t want to take too little, you want to take just the right amount of time.
Adults know the importance of and have an ability to estimate how long something will take to complete. We become good at knowing how long it takes us to get ready in the morning, how long to drive to the grocery store and other routine tasks. We also are able to use these routine estimations to help us estimate a novel task’s time. Granted, not all frontal lobes are created equal and we all know adults who can’t estimate time well and, as a result, are chronically late.
This time estimating skill is not innate and must be taught. Begin by telling your child how long you think the task will take. Teachers should let students know how long they anticipate homework assignments should take to complete or how long they anticipate spending on a particular unit. Progress to asking your child how long they think a task will take them or you to complete and then make it a game by actually timing. When their guesses are off, help your child to understand why something took longer or shorter than they anticipated.
Continue asking your child to make estimations with the goal being generally accurate ability without much guidance.