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Blog Post

Help Your Child Understand What Time Really Means

Teaching Time As Space

Dear Dr. Fournier:

School's about to start and I think my wife and I are more stressed about it than my son is. Every year we go through the same thing. He comes in from school, goes to the break room in my office, gets a snack and a Coke, gets out his iPod Touch and plays games on it until I close the office and we go home at 5:00 p.m. Sometimes he starts his homework while his mother and I fix dinner.

Sometimes he waits until after dinner. More times than I care to mention last school year, it took him until almost 10 p.m. to finish his homework! He starts everything with, "I can't do this," or, "It's dumb, Dad." He'll sit in the living room at his desk and daydream or chew his fingernails or just sit while I prod and then scream for him to get going on his homework.

This year he goes into the sixth grade and I know he will have more work to do. I know this is the point he should not have to have me on his back constantly about homework. I wrote to you about this time last year with this problem and you suggested in your column to use your timer strategy but he said he wasn't a baby. We feel like we're running out of time with him, still trying to persuade him to take advantage of his opportunity to get a good education. What else can we do?

David M. Kennett, Mo.

Dear David:

Your son has a time management issue, one in which he doesn't fully understand time and what he can accomplish within a fixed amount of time. This is causing him to procrastinate because he can't relate to what time really means and thus he doesn't know how much homework he can do in a fixed amount of time.

We live hurried lives; let's face it. Almost from the time our children are born, time means "hurry," which means stress. As parents, we are doubly stressed by time and by our desire for more of it, and by our children's complete disregard for it.

ASSESSMENT

On a typical school day we begin by telling our kids to, "Hurry up and eat breakfast or you'll be late for school." Then we end the day by reminding them, "Hurry up and get cleaned up, brush your teeth and get your pajamas on because it's time for bed."

During the time in between, our children listen to school bells to tell them when to start and finish their work. No wonder they look at teachers in disbelief when one says, "Don't rush; take your time because you have 10 minutes to complete this quiz."

They have no clue what 10 minutes on the clock really means or how to use it properly. How else then can a child interpret the meaning of time? Time to children means short, rushed, crowded and/or hurried. As students, they often tune out to protect themselves from the hectic pace. Before a child can learn to use time wisely, he must first learn a realistic definition of what time is.

WHAT TO DO

As soon as a child can tell time or count by fives, he or she should have an analog watch to use for school and homework assignments.

So David, it's time to replace your timer with an analog watch - not a digital one. Make sure your son uses an analog watch to do his homework (and no, the digital clock on his iPod Touch will not do). No wristwatch either, not even an analog one, and I'll explain why in a moment. The analog watch will help him visually redefine time as space, allowing him to see the area between 2:15 and 2:30, on the face of the watch. This will also help him define time as empty space with no connotation of hurriedness.

Using the analog watch as a picture of time, you can teach him how to learn what he can realistically and effectively accomplish in a certain or fixed amount of time which has now become "space" on the analog watch. Make sure the analog watch is on the break room table in your office or at home on his desk where he can view it as he is doing his homework so that he can check the time without losing concentration. For this reason, your child should not look at a watch on his wrist or up at a wall clock that breaks his train of thought and interrupts his ability to work within his known limits (the space on the clock face).

At the start of each new homework assignment, have your son tell you where the big hand of the watch will be when he finishes. Then tell him, "This is how much space you have." As your son travels through space, he will also learn to assess his own working capacity. At the end of the allotted time, discuss with him what he accomplished within that space.

Once he is comfortable with the new process, let his teacher know he will be using his analog watch on his desk at school to complete assignments.

And David, have your son put away the iPod Touch until the homework is done. He'll see he has plenty of time to play his games now that he knows his working capacity and knows procrastination is not necessary.

It's important to redefine time to eliminate stress and hurry, but it's also essential for your son to develop self-recognition of his working capacity. That's not just a skill for school, but one for life and for the workforce of the future.

More Stories By Dr. Yvonne Fournier

Dr. Yvonne Fournier is Founder and President of Fournier Learning Strategies. Her column, "Hassle-Free Homework" was published by the Scripps Howard News Service for 20 years. She has been a pharmacist, public health administrator, demographer and entrepreneur. Dr. Fournier, arguably one of the most prolific of educators and child advocates in America today, has followed her own roadmap, calling not just for change or improvement in education but for an entirely new model.

She remains one of the most controversial opponents of the current education system in America.