Friday, March 8, 2013

Teaching elapsed time

Understanding the concept of time is a foundational skill for executive function. It's hard to plan and manage your time when you don't have a clear understanding of the passage of time. Teaching elapsed time has been a challenge for me until Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP provided an easy tip during a presentation on executive function skills.

Before I get to the tip, let me give a little background on why she teaches the passage of time the way she does. I have always been a fan of visual timers. Until Ms. Ward opened my eyes to flaw of my beloved visual timer. Let me show you why.

Visual timers are always oriented like this:
When oriented this way, the time always runs out at the top, which gives the impression of everything ending on the hour.

How do you teach the concept of time and elapsed time when you're not starting and stopping right on the hour? Like when your child starts homework at 6:15? Or when it's 4:45 and your child wants to know when it will be time for dinner?

Sarah showed me that it's easier than it sounds. Simply buy a clock with a glass face and draw on it with a dry erase marker! Like this:

(This Staples clock does not have a glass face. A glass faced clock is recommended
to prevent staining from the dry erase marker)

This clock indicates that there is 15 minutes to complete a task, from 12:15-12:30. The white triangle marks the halfway checkpoint. Having a checkpoint at the halfway point allows the student to develop a concept of how much time it takes to do a task.

Some questions to ask at the halfway checkpoint:
  • Am I halfway done?
  • Am I still focused on the goal?
  • Is anything robbing my time? (e.g. distractions)
  • Do I need to move at a faster or slower pace?

For my halfway checkpoint, I just cut a triangle out of paper and taped it on at the halfway point. Magnets would work better because they're easier to move around as needed. Cognitive Connections sells magnetic Tracknets to mark important points during the sweep of time and to help with developing time awareness. They also sell a metal analog clock with a glass face (which is also does not making a ticking noise to help reduce distractions).

Now, let's take a step back. Before you can teach the passage of time, students need to know how to read an analog clock.

This is what I do:
To teach students how to read an analog clock, I've been using a clock I created using a free clock face printable from
I printed the clock face and glued it to a paper plate. I then cut the hands out of card stock to make them more sturdy and I attached the arms of the clock using a tack. This makes the perfect practice clock. When students come to see me, I have them write down the time they arrive using a digital clock, and then they have to use the practice analog clock to show me what time it is. This is a great way to develop awareness of time on an analog clock.

Another great way to teach the passage of time to young children is to use this free printable from Wondertime.
Wondertime Clock - Teaches passage of time to younger kids (ex. "when the hummingbird gets to the frog, it's time for snack.")  Print out .pdf and insert it into a regular clock.
The Child's First Clock from Wondertime uses animal pictures in addition to the numbers on the clock. For example, if your students need to work for 10 minutes, then you can tell them that they'll be working for 10 minutes, until the squirrel gets to the frog. This provides a visual to help see the passage of time. I have not tried this clock myself, but it looks fantastic! Click here for a video from Cognitive Connections on how to create your own Wondertime Clock.

*The information in this post is based on a presentation I attended by Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP, co-founder with Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP, of Cognitive Connections.
For more information, check out their website Cognitive Connections or follow them on Twitter! 
Follow Sarah Ward, MS, CCC-SLP on Twitter: @swardtherapy
Follow Kristen Jacobsen, MS, CCC-SLP on Twitter @KJSLP

What are your tips for teaching elapsed time?


  1. You know those "why didn't I think of that?" moments? I just had one. Thanks for sharing, Abby! I love my time timer as well, but this seems like a great idea to assist with the concept of time.

    1. I had a "why didn't I think of that?" moment too when Sarah Ward shared this tip at her presentation. Who knew there was such a simple solution?

  2. This is a wonderful post. Thanks for the information!


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