Friday, August 20, 2010

The Timer, a Parent and Teacher's Best Friend

One of my favourite tools, as both teacher and parent, is a timer. Timers are brilliant for adding another dimension to an activity. From times tables drills to putting away sports equipment, teachers have been using timers as a motivator for years. I found it worked well for some family problems too, as well as added fun to games. Not for reading though - in my book, literature should be savoured, mulled over, dreamt upon.

Are your kids dragging their feet over tidying up? My suggestion is to show them by example first of all, but also bring out the stopwatch. Announce that the Guinness Book Of Records time for tidying is 3 minutes 57 seconds (or some other time you pull from your frazzled brain) and suggest they try to beat it. Often kids will respond to the element of competition in this idea. Record the time they managed and see if they can beat it next time.

Is your youngest a world-class procrastinator, making every morning into a chore and a rush for the school bus? Discuss the problem with her and make sure she understands how it affects everyone. Introduce this plan. She is going to see if she can improve ie be quicker to get ready in the mornings. Time her on the first day, and each day after. Set up a chart or graph or record of some kind where she can see her times, and give her gold stars or some other reward when she improves her time. You don't need to stand around with a stopwatch either. Maybe there is a timer she can start and stop herself, making her more responsible for her own behaviour. This idea won't work for every child, of course, but some kids respond to it. 

If you're teaching or coaching kids in sport drills, adding a timer can motivate kids to improve on the time taken for lots of activities. One of the games my Year Six kids adored was MoonBall, although it's not so much a timed game. The idea is not to compete against each other, but to co-operate and try to beat the World Record number of hits. (Yes, you got it, I invented the World Record too. Sneaky!) You need a beach ball, a nice big one, and a group of kids. Announce that the World Record for the number of times the ball can be passed to someone else without touching the floor is 15 (or 9 or 20). Throw the ball up and the kids start passing it to each other with a one or two-handed up-throw (like volleyball), while you count aloud the hits. At first, they do silly stuff like slamming the ball so nobody can get it, but gradually they realise it's about working together with no slam stars. Maybe it's not the best game for cardio-vascular efficiency, but kids really learn about co-operation. It also makes a great pool game for adults and kids. 

Another idea is to have your students/children invent or play games with time as a factor. Board games like Scattergories are such fun, or you could use the same idea to make a family game. Record some categories on paper or even a digital document or powerpoint slide, then have your child (or pairs or teams) name/write five items in that category in 20 - 30 seconds (shorter for older kids). If the category is flowers, they must quickly scribble down examples like : rose, daisies, iris, violet, snapdragon. Keep adding to categories as you think of them, with obvious ones like metals, countries and vegetables, but maybe movie characters, birthday presents, things that make me laugh could be good too. If you're teaching time, a good game is to estimate how much time has passed. One way is to ask kids to standup/clap/move when they think ten/thirty/sixty seconds has passed.

As for the timer itself, a stopwatch is great, but an egg timer or kitchen timer is good too. If you need an online timer, try Class Tools or Fiery Ideas. Both have music you can set to accompany your designated countdown. Find other timers at Timer, or Class Timer, and here's a timer you can put on your blog or website.


  1. Kelly Burstow21 August, 2010

    Love this Susan! Such a great post. I need to get a fun looking timer. Kids love the competition of it all don't they?

  2. Book Chook21 August, 2010

    I think they love the game aspect of it all, Kelly - anything that will turn a chore into a game has my vote too.

    A fun looking timer would be great, but I wonder if they have a physical timer with an audio aspect too? I can see kids enjoying hearing a voice count down, or frantic music like the online timer I mentioned, or even a cartoon voice making comments. I will do some research!

  3. Kelly Burstow21 August, 2010

    lol The possibilities are endless...

  4. If you are not near a computer and want to use the stopwatch on a mobile device I suggest taking a look at


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