Standing around our kitchen the other day, a friend expressed her frustration with getting her 9-year-old son to listen and absorb her instruction. She had a few examples, but one that really highlights this common struggle from moms is her clock example. She was trying to get her son to learn how to “do” time/clock problems in his math curriculum.
She had explained to him that 30 minutes after the hour could also be expressed as half-passed the hour. When she asked him to do the problems on the curriculum sheet, he couldn’t repeat or remember these different expressions on the paper. My immediate response was to ask if she’d played clock games to help him with clock/time expressions.
Later, as I reconsidered her issue and my response, I thought, “Why are we so curriculum dependant, especially for the most basic of life lessons?” I remembered months earlier a mom asked me what’s the best curriculum to use to teach the days of the week. Do we need a curriculum to teach children to tell time, know the days of the week, or months of the year? No, we don’t. And not only do we not need a curriculum for these lessons, its not even the best way to teach them. What we need is a clock and a calendar.
We probably already have clocks and calendars in our home. We just need to remember to point out what they tell us when we walk past them. Point them out everywhere you go.
It’s especially instructive to identify dinnertime, leaving for church time, or friends coming over time. My children really track the time on the clock waiting for that time the friends are due to arrive. Its a great opportunity to use all the different phrases to express the time and to point out the minute lines, five minute marks, half hour and quarter hour. As an aside, the clock is also a great place to learn fractions. Have our children had experience with the clock before they have to answer questions about it on a curriculum sheet?
When we try to teach children something in the curriculum that they have no experience with, it is very hard to learn it just for the sake of learning something. Kids need a purpose. Like all of us, they need a reason to do what they do. Busy work (or work that seems to have no purpose) frustrates and rarely teaches. If they’ve experienced the clock as it
relates to their lives (and things they care about), then when it shows up on their math curriculum, those will be the easy pages to fly through. What time ice cream is going to be served makes a child want to understand how to read the clock.
Curriculum dependency is a problem in other areas as well. So watch out for it! That’s not to say we don’t need curriculum, but overly depending on it can leave us missing the opportunity to teach the real life lessons that present themselves through the course of our day. Curriculum not only helps us keep forward momentum, but also reminds us to cover things we might forget needs to be taught. Maybe we didn’t think of the analog clock until it came up in the math curriculum.
If so, our child will need some real life experience with it before the on-paper clock exercises will make sense. Curriculum is not a crutch. Curriculum is a useful teaching tool, but life is the lesson.