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What's the time, Mr Wolf?

Mathematical thinking


Suitable for children: 
Skills this activity improves: 
Outside clock

You use time every day. You use it when you heat food in the microwave or organise who will have the first shower or the last. You also use time when you are planning your day, organising to meet someone or picking your child up from school.

Talk to your child about how you use time and the different ways that time can be described.

The spaghetti will only take one minute to heat - that’s not very long.

Dad is going to be late home tonight so we won’t have dinner at our normal time.

When you are out and about with your child, point out things that are related to time or when you can see time being used. You could talk about the bus timetable, a shop’s opening hours or a clock on the wall.

When you find something related to time talk about the different language that is used.

When is the shop open?

Does the 190 bus come before or after the 190B bus?

Alternative tools

  • Timetable
  • Clock
  • Watch

Why does this matter?

Talking about time and the different ways we can represent it helps children to understand that time can be about the present, the past and the future.

Exploring time together with your child helps them to begin to sequence events and understand when things will happen.

What does this lead to?

As children explore time they are learning to make predictions about when things will happen, how often they will occur and the likelihood of it happening.

Time can be represented as a numeral on a clock, as an event or something that happens at different times of the day. Time can be represented as something that will happen very soon or is over quickly. It can be an event that lasts a long time or something that we need to wait to happen. When we talk about time as an event or a routine, children are developing an understanding that we might use different language. 

Language to use

  • Time, clock, watch
  • Day time, evening time, morning, afternoon, lunchtime, dinner time, sleep time
  • Regular, planned, sometimes, always, never
  • Before, after, next, soon

Questions to use

  • When do we go swimming?
  • What time is bedtime?
  • When do you go to kindergarten?
  • When is In the Night Garden on TV?
  • How long do we need to heat the baked beans for?
  • Is it sleep time?

Useful tips

  1. When talking to your child about time talk about an event they do every day, such as ‘we go swimming after kindy’.
  2. You might also like to take a look at the Routines activity.
  3. Remember to talk to your child in your home language.

More ideas

  1. Go on a time hunt around the house.
  2. Make a visual schedule of your daily routine. Draw a clock face with the time to show when the events will happen.

Variation by age

Three to five year olds

  • Write lists of your family’s chores or routines.
  • Create a calendar or chart that shows when each chore is done.
  • Make popcorn in the microwave. Find the time instructions on the side of the packet and point them out to your child.
  • Use a stopwatch to time how quickly you can pack away the toys.
  • Use the stopwatch to time how many jumps you can do in one minute.
  • Make a bingo card of time to use when you are out and about.

Questions to ask

  • Do we only use a clock to tell the time?
  • Does it take longer to cook the popcorn or to drive to kindy?
  • Who can pack up the fastest?
  • When does that happen?
  • How do we know when that happens?

Language to use

  • When, how
  • Fast, slow, quick, soon
  • Longest, later
  • Clock, timer, timetable