"It's time to go." "We don't have time." "What time is it?" "Time will tell." Children hear lots about "time," but often struggle with what time actually is. That's predictable: time is often an abstract idea, tied to norms of a particular culture. While there are concrete, observable patterns of time in nature, measuring it and scheduling our days is a far more complicated process for children to grasp. Before we delve into the management of time in clocks and watches, we want children to appreciate the awe-inspiring patterns those tools help to describe.
Montessorians recognize that the patterns of nature can be experienced through the body. For young children, we allow "time" for observation, for noting change in plant growth, in the angle of the sun, in the colors of the leaves on the trees or in the life cycles of insects and other animals, in how long it takes for a cup of tea to steep. We encourage children to use accurate language to describe the passage of time, drawing their attention to the patterns of the world around us. Children on walks around their neighborhood may be asked to find signs that the seasons are changing. Children on their birthdays are honored with a celebration that represents the cycle of the planets.
In the Elementary classroom, we introduce the Great Lessons, which offer patterns of time on a far grander scale. We continue the observation of time and introduce the structures by which that observation is measured across cultures. We will also offer complimentary lessons on the nomenclature of time, including specific lessons on the organization of a clock and timelines across multiple content areas. But we want, first and foremost, for children to appreciate that time is a way of naming the changes that occur around us in a world too wondrous to minimize. While "telling time" is a practical skill children need to master, honoring time is work of the spirit. In our classrooms, we take the time to allow for those observations, to respect the wonder that noticing can inspire, and to "make time for time" as something to be understood and not merely measured.
Notice with your child. Instead of focusing on the measurement of time, ("You have five minutes to put away your toys!") draw children's attention to the experience of time. "We will have two more bedtimes before we visit Anna's house." When you're preparing young children for the passage of time, use tools that let them "see" the effect of time, like an hourglass or gel timer. Display an analog clock in your home. With such a complicated subject, expect that your child may not understand what "12:30" means on the face of your phone, and instead may need markers that reference his experience instead of the measurement. "We will have lunch after our morning errands." With older children who have a stronger understanding of the concept, find time away from time, when you put away your watches and phones and enjoy each other's company. Let time fly, and give your family the space to enjoy time together without worrying about the clock.