Who's counting? We don't teach time, we live it


It was at the library where I first heard the "five-more-minutes" line. My first-born son was still a baby who willingly left from one place to the next, but I tucked away this popular line as I watched those ahead of me use it as a tool to wrangle unwilling goodbyes.Yet, when our turn came, and my baby was now an opinionated toddler some time around the age of 2, those words flowed easily from my mouth. I further assumed it was time to teach my son all that I knew about time, as if this were knowledge I should bestow upon him.

Except, I was never actually coordinated enough as a parent to track those five-minute warnings. Sometimes, those five minutes were more like one minute if I was impatient or 10 minutes if I ran into a friend. Even when it was a precise five minutes, what is one minute – let alone five of them – from a toddler’s perspective?

Like the many lessons in Montessori that humble me as a parent, children need something concrete to better understand something as abstract as time. While those five minutes may be helpful for me, it’s not yet meaningful information for my son.

Still, my interest in wanting to teach time was purposeful. I wanted to better engage him in our day to help with transitions, big and small. It is only respectful to better communicate those parts of our day that would be out of the ordinary, whether it be a dentist appointment, haircut, or work trip for daddy. I even bought one of those bright, busy monthly calendars for preschoolers where I thought he’d be able to effectively track the days of the week, month, seasons, time, and weather. I wanted to slow down our time together to help him learn, but what I saw was a child rushed to understand my own concept of time, not his own identification of the day.

Why was I so pressured to rush this lesson? Perhaps it’s a part of the hurriedness in modern parenting. Today’s world is busy, fast, scheduled, and structured. We are always “on,” and it can easily trickle down to our children.

When I took a step back from my structured perception of time, I was able to see and appreciate where my children are in their own time. They grasp more than we assume, and, if anything, their appreciation of time might be superior to ours as adults. They both know when it’s morning, afternoon, and evening. They move freely yet intentionally with the natural rhythms of the day, from sunrise to sunset. It is connected and present. Honoring the fact that their own rhythm is perfectly age appropriate – and furthermore worth embracing as a sacred aspect of childhood – is a perspective that helps me to truly meet them where they are.

We don’t teach time, we just live it. We experience it. We show it. I carry the burden of watching the clock as the prepared adult, while my children remain in tune to the simplicity of day and night, today and tomorrow. We don’t memorize dates or names of the months, but we do talk about days, weeks, months, holidays, weather, and seasons as we live through them, pairing these words with real-life experiences. I don’t delegate a five-minute countdown when I want to leave the library, but I might notice the tangible building blocks in their hands and provide a visual by saying that we will leave once we put those blocks away.

As for my son, who is now three and capable of understanding past and future, I find ways to show him, not tell him, the passage of time through visuals like family trees, personal timelines, and linear calendars. These concrete visuals will be an exciting new leap in his quest to find his place in time – an interest I was able to see by following his own rhythm, not mine.

We started this lesson in a way where I thought I held the secret to teaching my kids time. As the adult, it’s easy for us to believe we have the answers, we know the way, and time is on our side. I realize now that my children are the guides here. They held the secret to time all along.

"He has the power to teach himself." -- Maria Montessori

Jenna Wawrzyniec is a writer and Guidepost parent at Eldorado of two children under the age of four. Read more of her work at itslittlebird.com.  

Guidepost Montessori provides authentic, child-centered education for children ages 0 to 12. With over 80 campuses across the US and Asia, and at-home and virtual learning programs serving more than 5,000 families worldwide, Guidepost is the world’s largest Montessori network.

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