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What is time

There are many resources that social studies educators can use to effectively teach history. However, when it comes to teaching small children the concept of time, the list gets thin. Elementary students understand change over time as it relates to their age group and cognitive skill, and personal experiences.

Elementary students believe that all adults are very old, usually feel anxious waiting a few days for important events such as their birthdays or Christmas, thinking is taking forever. Therefore, “Time is a hard concept for preschoolers. It is not something that they can touch, feel and explore (Geiser, 2010)”.

Young students may believe that a 30-year-old person is very old, or that two weeks is a very long time. Teaching time promotes understanding of history, and the concept of time in many different ways, from age to calendar time.

With that being said, social studies educators have to emphasize the importance of teaching time as part of the key concepts of teaching history to elementary students (Wallace, 2006, p. 243).

Young students understanding of time

There are various resources social studies educators can employ in their classrooms to enhance students’ cognitive understanding of change over time. Initially, educators may introduce time in small fragments. One day’s time may be explained using a basic clock to introduce seconds, minutes, and hours.

Then, the days of the week may be introduced using days of the week’s daily activities, such as songs. Teachers may “…look for songs and poetry that involve sequencing…” this may be very effective (Wallace, 2006, p. 244). A digital calendar, technology may help in this step, may be introduced to explain months of the year, and a student’s birthday the concept of a one year to students, in terms of change over time.

For instance, “young children understand the world through their own experience…’ once I was a baby, now am big’. ‘My birthday is October.’ Summer vacation starts in two weeks (Wallace, 2006, p. 244)”. Yet, when it comes to understanding history based on change over time various factors come to play.

Integrating Technology

In the modern classroom, the use of technology serves as one of the most important, and easy to integrate, tools for any educator. Hence, even though educators teach time through the daily calendar, and days of the week activities, a digital countdown system may effectively and consistently teach time.

Thus, in every class session, the students are able to clearly see the calendar with a clock, changing in real-time. Currently, Windows 10 offers an array of free applications that offer functionalities, such as calendar, days of the week and time, and interactive map, which can be very useful to teach change over time to elementary students (Microsoft, 2015).

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Chronological thinking

Teaching time takes an assortment of steps. Calendar, clock, and days of the week effectively help understand change over time. Chronological thinking is the essence of comprehension in history, I believe. As a potential social studies educator, I believe that chronological thinking plays an important role in all social studies disciplines.

Chronological thinking offers the students a clear path to “Distinguish between past, present, and future time (UCLA, 2012)”. An effective way to teach chronological thinking would be through an interactive map, I believe.

Time and History

In my classroom, I may have a map that shows the chronological time by long-lasting empires. For example, the Persian, and Greek (Alexander’s) empire represent B.C, the Roman Empire represents A.D, the Byzantine Empire represents the Dark Ages, the British Empire represents the early modern period, and the American revolutionary war represents everything after that.

I feel thus through the classroom map the students are able to distinguish between time periods in readings and generally speaking. Personally, I have successfully taken multiple-choice exams, such as the Praxis, and I employed my theory in which I was able to guess the answer by defining the time period.

If the question spoke about Islamic expansion, I automatically connected it with the Byzantine Empire and the 6th and 7th century A.D, hence, finding the answer swiftly. Moreover, if a question was dated the 17th or 18th century I connected it with the American revolutionary war and the French revolution.

Ultimately, I feel that using a map that illustrates time periods according to long-lasting empires, students are able to, as I do, develop chronological thinking that serves as an important instrument to understanding change in time. These activities and resources are useful and can be applied at the elementary and secondary levels.


Geiser, T. (2010, 12 22). Teaching Preschoolers
about Time
. Retrieved from Education:

Martorella, C. B. (2008). Teaching social studies
in middle and secondary schools (5th ed.).
Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson

UCLA. (2012). Retrieved from

Wallace, M. (2006). Social Studies All day, Every day in the early childhood classroom. Belmont: Delmar Cengage Learning.


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