Helping Your Toddler Understand Time and Routines- Less than $20 DIY Resource for Parents

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Updated 2/13/2019

Hey Parents,

Did you ever notice that the concept of time is really tough for kids to understand– all the way from birth up until they are like 7 or 8?

It’s a real problem, because we use time to manage everything in our lives!

  • When to wake up,
  • when to go to daycare or the babysitter’s,
  • when to the store,
  • when to eat,
  • when to nap,
  • when we come home from work,
  • when to celebrate holidays,
  • when to go to parties,
  • when to take a bath,
  • when to go to bed….

And through all this, our poor children don’t even know what we’re talking about when we say, “We will get to have bath time at 7 o’clock. Please wait til then.”

How can we help kids understand what’s coming next in the day?

It’s no fun to be thrown into things without any warning or understanding. What would that feel like to have NO IDEA what is going to happen next until someone else decided for you? And you HAD to do it?? 

I would throw a fit too!

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Case in point-

I was feeling so sad for my poor daughter the other day. She was getting so frustrated because she couldn’t understand why it wasn’t time to eat dinner.

Having a family dinner is very important to us, so I was hoping she would wait until dad got home from work. We do this every day, but those last 15 minutes are always a battle! 

There’s got to be a way to fix it. I’m done fighting this every single day! 

I did what every mom does- I complained to my friends about our problems. My awesome sister-in-law Monica (an amazing mother of four who I really look up to) gave me the best idea!

She said that she had heard of a tool that you can make at home, DIY, for less than $20 that will help children better understand time and routines.

Ummm…. YES PLEASE!!!

I took her suggestions and added my own twists. I call it our “Routine Clock.”

I’m focusing on two parts of our daily routine- eating times (snacks and meals) and sleeping times (nap and bedtime) by marking those events on the face of an analog clock for my child to see.

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Do you have any great ideas on how to improve this “Routine Clock”? Tell us about it! Comment below!

Step 1: Gather materials.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • A cheap analog clock

Mainstay Sterling & Noble Wall Clock – Black


  • Sharpies

Sharpie 30078 Permanent Markers, Fine Point, Classic Colors, 8 Count

  • Scissors

AmazonBasics Multipurpose Scissors – 3-Pack

  • A screwdriver

TEKTON 2796 6-in-1 Screwdriver

  • Stickers, paint, or any other fun decorations your child might like!

RENOOK Stickers for Kids 1500+, 20 Different Sheets, 3D Puffy Stickers, Scrapbooking, Bullet Journals, Stickers for Adult, Including Animals, and More,Christmas Stickers for Kids.

Crayola Washable Kids Paint, Classic Colors, 6 Count, Painting Supplies, Gift

  • Not required… But there were tiny screws that are easy to lose, so my husband’s magnetic tool tray might have come in handy. I wish I had thought of it beforehand.

Titan Tools 11061 Mini Magnetic Parts Tray

Step 2: Remove the minute hand (or at least mark the hour hand).

The overall goal with this clock is for my child to watch the hour hand approach a marked time for a snack or a meal or nap time in order to visualize when those events are getting closer.

The problem is that the minute hand crosses each of the marked time slots every hour of the day, while the hour hand only crosses them once per day (once per day during the hours that my child is awake anyways…).

So I really need my child to watch the hour hand, not the minute hand. By removing the minute hand or at least marking the hour hand, my child knows which one to keep an eye on.

You’ll have to remove the clock face for this step. It was super easy to do- just take out the screws on the back of the clock.

The minute and second hands were easy to cut with scissors. I did leave a small bit of each hand so that I could set the time on the clock.

If you would rather not cut the minute hand, just mark the hour hand with a sticker or by painting it or using a sharpie to change its color. This will help it stand out so that your child knows to watch the hour hand.

Step 3: Use a sharpie to mark the times of various daily activities on the face of the clock.

Replace the face of the clock. Again- so easy, just screw the face back on.

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I tried light-colored sharpies so that my child could still see the numbers under my markings.

As my child practices with the clock, I would like to start teaching her how the numbers correspond with the time, which corresponds with our daily activities. I really didn’t want to cover up the numbers with dark colors.

I found that the light green and yellow sharpies were TOO light. You could hardly see the color. But the darker pink and darker green were perfect!

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****Idea- One limitation of this clock is that it still only works to help my child understand the daily routine, not to prepare for curve balls that life throws when the routine is thrown off.

If you want the clock to change based on what your plans are for the day, don’t use sharpies. Try using dry erase markers so that you can add different tasks or activities based on what new things are going on for the day!

Then just erase your clock at the end of the day so that you can put the next day’s tasks on the clock!

For my purposes, I color coded the clock using green and pink. Pink marks are for meals and snacks. Green marks are for naps and bedtime.

My child usually goes to sleep at 7pm and wakes up at 7am, so I marked from 7 to 7:15 in green to mark bedtime/wake up time. Her nap is around 1-3, so those times are marked in green.

Breakfast is between 7:15-8, lunch is between 12-12:45, dinner is between 5-6, and snacks are from 10-10:30am and 3-3:30pm. Those times are all blocked out in pink.

Marking a range of time during which we generally eat or sleep rather than marking one specific time allows some flexibility.

For example, we start lunch any time between 12:00 and 12: 45.

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Step 4: Decorate it!

I have not been blessed with a talent for drawing, especially on a curved surface like the face of a clock, so it was surprisingly difficult to make my clock look cute!

In the end, I decided I’d better go simple. I outlined each different task in black sharpie to make the time slots nice and defined, added a boarder around the face of the clock, and called it good.

But let’s be real- kids aren’t judgmental. They love you no matter what, and they’re excited about new things with pretty colors. So I had nothing to worry about.

If my little one were a little older, I would probably invite her to decorate it herself.

Oh, and I also added labels on each routine so that my awesome husband knows what’s coming up next. He always wants to help but doesn’t always know how. Win Win!

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Step 5: Set the time.

Just follow the directions on the package!

Step 6: Put your new tool to work!

Well, we completed our clock about a week ago.

My daughter is catching on fast. I make sure to show her the clock each time a snack, meal, nap, or bedtime comes up. She is starting to point to it all on her own when we are getting close to one of those times in our day.

I chose not to hang it on the wall. Rather, I keep it on the counter.

  • Giving My Daughter a Heads Up

When a meal or nap is coming up, I hand it to my daughter (she loves to hold it) point to the color coming up. I ask her, “Do you know what’s going to happen soon?” or “Do you know what’s coming up next?”

Then we talk about it and I give her a 5-minute opportunity to finish up whatever she’s doing before it’s time to transition.

  • Helping her Understand When She Needs to Wait

It’s so much easier to tell her that she needs to wait to eat! (She doesn’t mind waiting to take a nap….)

If she’s getting hungry just a few minutes before dad gets home from work, I just show her the clock and say, “It’s not time for dinner yet, but look how close it is! Almost time!” 

Then she can hold the clock and check back to watch as dinner time gets closer and closer.

I have noticed frustration levels for both me and my child decreasing every day! It’s so nice to have a simple way to help her look forward to what’s coming up next in her routine.

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Did you try out this “Routines Clock”? How did it go?? Comment below!

Do you have any great ideas on how to make these clocks better? Tell us about it! Comment below!

I hope this resource helps some cute kids out there!

And parents, as always, keep up the good work!

(As a total side note, I recently learned about another amazing tool to help children with time! This one is a clock that lights up green when it is “wake up time.” If the child wakes up too early, the light is off so he knows to keep resting or engage in a quiet activity until the light turns green signaling that he can begin his day! AMAZING!)

Click on the image below!
Mirari OK to Wake! Alarm Clock & Night-Light

Sincerely,

Mrs. S

Please share this post with a parent who could use some help teaching their kids about time!

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