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The Benefits of Using Visual Timers with Children

Visual timers How we Montessori

Have you thought about using visual timers with your children? Visual timers can help children:

  • understand the concept of time 
  • independently complete activities for a given amount of time
  • set a timer for simple activities
  • transition from one activity to another

We use visual timers for:

  • brushing teeth
  • reminding us to check on bread that has been left to rise
  • baking bread and other goods in the oven
  • boiling an egg, cooking rice and other timed kitchen activities
  • learning about time

Visual timers could also be used for:

  • timing screen time (for older children)
  • timing baths or showers (for older children) - especially if long showers or baths are a concern in your home.
  • timing homework tasks (for older children) - when assigned timed tasks like fifteen minutes of maths, fifteen minutes of reading.
  • timing clean up - for example, we are going to tidy for five minutes then relax.
  • timing waiting time - for example explaining to the child we can't go to the park now but we can go in half an hour, we can set the timer so the child doesn't need to keep on asking how much time left, they can check the timer. 
  • timing the washing machine, dryer, dishwasher or other devices the child may be waiting to finish - especially if they are feeling exuberant about emptying it or frequently ask how much time is left.

Visual timers allow children to independently see the time counting down or passing in an accurate measured way. We use two types of visual timers, sand hourglass timers and dial or disc timers.

Sand hourglass timers run for a set amount of time. We have hourglass timers for 2 minutes, 5 minutes, 15 minutes, and 30 minutes. The child knows the time has passed when all the sand is on the bottom of the hourglass. Sand hourglass timers are also super easy for a young child to use by themselves, even a toddler can flip a two-minute timer for teeth-brushing. 

Dial or disc timers can be set for specific amounts of time in one-minute increments. The coloured disc disappears as time passes. These timers often have an alarm that rings when the time is up. Our Coloured Countdown Timer has different colours on the disc to indicate how much time is left so the child can see in a quick glance if they have a lot or a little time left. 

Let's take a look at some of our visual timers!

Visual timers How we Montessori

My three year old often tells me "just five minutes more" if he wants to stay in bed in the morning or if he doesn't want to get dressed. At this age, we don't expect the child to have an understanding of how long five minutes is but we can begin to teach them about time.

Visual timers How we Montessori

We have 5, 15, and 30 minute sand timers (AU).

Visual timers How we Montessori

The two-minute timer in the bathroom gets used at least six times a day. All of my children need to use a timer or they start to slack off with their brushing. This is a really cheap and easy way to encourage good dental hygiene. And the children get a good feel for how long two minutes is.

Visual timers How we Montessori

We use a dial visual timer (UK) (US similar) in the kitchen. This timer can be set for up to 60 minutes and the bell rings when time is up. Here we have set it for 15 minutes and as you can see the red disc winds down as time passes. My three-year-old is able to set this timer himself and will often sit and watch it while he is waiting for his bread to bake. This would be on my list of recommended (must-have) kitchen items for children 3yrs+.

Lovevery Visual Timer at How we Montessori Countdown Color Timer (1)

The Countdown Colour Timer (in the Lovevery The Investigator Play Kit for months 31, 32, 33) is genius. It can be set for up to twenty minutes. Rather than a red dial in our kitchen timer, this dial is coloured. When the dial is showing orange or red the child knows they only have a little time left. This timer also has three settings on the back for no alarm, a quiet alarm and a louder alarm. 

Overall I'm not a fan of timing our children. While I believe that visual timers can be incredibly useful (brushing teeth, kitchen/cooking, learning about time) we need to use them in a way that is sensitive to our children's needs and use them in an age and developmentally appropriate way.  If you have concerns about timing children generally I recommend reading The Problem with Timers by Janet Lansbury. 

Resources: 5, 15, 30 Minute Sand Timers (AU), Visual Timer (UK) (US similar), Countdown Colour Timer.

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