Timers are an excellent way to motivate your children or students to complete tasks and listen to directions.
Here, I will illustrate three ways to use timers with children.
1. Some children have difficulty working for prolonged periods of time without a break. They may get frustrated or mentally drained. I have seen children start to look around, talk, and play with items during prolonged periods of homework or classwork. This often leads to an adult telling them to get back to work before they are mentally ready. Sometimes the child becomes resistant and refuses to get back to work. Other times they will make statements such as “I am too tired.” “It is too hard.” “I am bored.” or “I don’t care about this.” If they do get back to work, they may work slowly, rush through the assignment, or not put forth their best effort.
So how can timers help?
Tell your child that they need to complete a certain amount of work. For example, if your child is given 20 math problems for homework, you can say, “Complete the first ten problems and then take a five minute break to do something of your choice. Then do the next ten problems.”
This is a great method for encouraging work completion because children like to work towards something fun. Many children also need a mental break and will work more effectively when they have the opportunity to take one. Using a timer takes the ownership away from the parent or teacher. The adult is not arbitrarily telling the child that the break is over. The timer dictates the length of the break. This leads to less resistance from the child.
2. Some children are very easily distracted during homework or classwork. They look around, talk, or play with items even when activities are relatively short. These children benefit from “timer games.” For instance, you can tell the child that if she completes the task of writing down her spelling words before the timer goes off, she can engage in a timed activity of her choice when she is done working. This allows for the use of the timer during the assignment and during the fun activity she chooses after the assignment.
3. Has your child ever resisted when you told him to put his toys away, get off the computer, or turn off the television? Young children or children with disabilities such as autism have difficulty breaking away from something enjoyable when not prepared that their fun time is coming to an end. Using a timer is a great way to prepare your child for these situations. For example, you can set the timer and say “In five minutes, turn off the computer and start your homework.”
Timers can also be used to encourage children to complete household chores such as dishes, putting toys away, and cleaning their rooms.
Teachers can also use timers in their classroom with individual students or the whole class.
It is important to note that some children do not have a concept of time or numbers. For these children visual timers work best. Children who can tell time often think that visual timers are fun, which often motivates them.
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