posted by Thanh Shanahan

Life at home with my two little ones can be hectic at times. They are 19 months apart, and one of two things can happen as we go through our day. First is (unfortunately) fighting – toddlers and preschoolers are quite selfish and there is quite the learning curve for sharing and taking turns. The other is slowing their mom down when she is ready to leave or transition to the next activity. Throw in a six-month-old who I watch every day and hectic is taken up a notch. Because of my current reality, the timer is my best friend. At home we use the one on the microwave and the timer on the trusty iPhone never fails when we’re on the go.

Siblings fighting over the same toy is inevitable. When this happens, my children know the drill.

One child lets the other know that they’d like a turn with the toy.

The other child responds with “You can have it when I’m done.”

“How much longer?”

“2 minutes (my 2-year-old son’s response every time!)”

And this is when I interject. I give the second child the option to know how long “2 minutes” is or if I need to set a timer. I like to give them a chance to sense time passing and know when they are done with the toy and ready to pass it on. My daughter will usually tell me that she knows when 2 minutes have passed – and she does. In fact, she usually is done before a timer would have rang. If the timer is needed, it is a good visual for all parties involved – they can see the numbers counting down. And when the timer is done, there is a beeping or a song to let everyone know it’s time to switch. It’s not flawless by any means, but it does work most of the time.

Transitions can be tricky for little ones. Time to clean up, time to go to the bathroom, time to get your shoes on, time to head out the door, time to leave the zoo. I’m sure in their eyes, I have the worse timing! I do try my best to give them several warnings, but the timers yield a much better result and less crying. For example, when it’s time for us to leave the museum or the zoo (two of our favorite places), I will first give them a 30-minute warning so that they know it’s almost time to go home. I usually set my phone timer when there are 5 minutes left. As soon as the song plays, both of my kids – and any regular friends we see – will look right at me to make sure it is time to leave. Using the timer in this way has made this transition so much easier for us – there is rarely tears or opposition, which makes leaving go just a little smoother.

Trust me when I tell you that a timer is a game changer – even almost magical. 🙂 It takes training and practice, but once established, it will help you in so many areas.

Thanh Ngoc Shanahan

Thanh Ngoc Shanahan, M.A., spent 13 years teaching young children in preschool, kindergarten and elementary school settings. She began her career in early learning at the Concordia Early Childhood Education Center, where she worked as a preschool teacher, developed and implemented early learning curricula and helped transition the growing program from four classrooms to 12 classrooms in a state-of-the-art early education facility. At the Chicago International Charter School, she taught a rigorous, data-driven curriculum to kindergarteners while incorporating technology into the classroom experience and mentoring student teachers. After serving as a second-grade teacher at the Daystar School in Chicago, Shanahan launched a family child care program in 2013. She earned her B.A. in early childhood education with a specialization in music from Concordia University in 2000 and her M.A. in early childhood education with a special education emphasis from Concordia in 2006. Shanahan has appeared on Town Square, an online network that connects family child care professionals in Illinois to professional development resources curated by the Erikson Institute. The creator of a Town Square series on the benefits of excursions for young children, she was also a featured presenter on a Town Square module on developmentally appropriate technology use. Conversant in Chinese and Vietnamese, Shanahan is passionate about teaching because she loves to help young children engage in exploration and discovery.

Read more posts by Thanh Ngoc Shanahan

6 Replies to “Timers”

    1. You could really start quite early, especially if you are using a timer that chimes when time is up. Even toddlers will understand that the chime means the time is over. It will give them an aural cue as well as a visual one.

    2. I agree with Jen. Toddlers are capable of learning to transition when they hear a timer.

      Sorry I didn’t see these comments until now.

  1. I have used timers in my class they worked well unfortunately I thought I should have them down where the children could observe them. Smart children they figured out that they could move the time!

  2. I love it! Timers are a great concrete, visual way of helping little ones to begin understanding the concept of time during the early levels of development regarding this concept.

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