A Wrinkle in Teaching Time: Part One

Time. I really want to insert my favorite Dr Who quotes here but I won’t. Teaching kids the idea of chronology and time is tough. For a chunk of my education career I worked in a nineteenth century living history museum. Teachers would book our field trips to cover content such as Native American studies, Westward Encroachment, colonial period, or just because they wanted to show kids old timey things.

Old Timey: it’s a real thing. Teachers and students  have said it aloud a million times. It becomes default as teachers look into the eyes of students who may not be as old as the car they are driving ( and let’s face it we’re teachers, so Dodge Dart drivers REPRESENT!) and realize that their kids have no concept of time.

This is especially difficult because every state has some kind of standards dealing with time.

Here is some language about time for five year olds in the great state of California:


  • K.6  Students understand that history relates to events, people, and places of other times.
  • Identify the purposes of, and the people and events honored in, commemorative holidays, including the human struggles that were the basis for the events (e.g., Thanksgiving, Independence Day, Washington’s and Lincoln’s Birthdays, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day).
  • Know the triumphs in American legends and historical accounts through the stories of such people as Pocahontas, George Washington, Booker T. Washington, Daniel Boone, and Benjamin Franklin.
  • Understand how people lived in earlier times and how their lives would be different today (e.g., getting water from a well, growing food, making clothing, having fun, forming organizations, living by rules and laws).


Disclaimer: I do not teach kindergarten kids. In the words of one of my favorite parents: “I couldn’t do what you do!” (He was a corrections officer.)  Most K teachers would knock these out of the park, but they wouldn’t be human if they didn’t wrestle with the ideas: “Understand how people lived in earlier times and how their lives would be different today”

Ok sure, if you lived in old timey times you wouldn’t have a cell phone, you would sleep in a castle, have to ride a horse instead of a bicycle, and play chase instead of video games. But eventually, even as they enter say, the fourth grade,  kids go from things were different to:

4.4 Students explain how California became an agricultural and industrial power by tracing the transformation of the California economy and its political and cultural development since the 1850’s….

This is unquestionably a study of time . It is also really daunting.  But in hunting around for how to help kids understand time  I discovered something called “time scripts.”

 “Time Scripts”   are basically  about putting things together in a temporal way that are related in cause and effect. It is related when there are significant changes that then lead to events or other changes in time.

In the end, it may not put squarely in your students psyche when the Homestead Act occurred in relation to their birthday, or the time Tommy Handsworth swallowed three earthworms on a dare, but they might be able to anchor it in their thinking in relationship to why where they live was able to become a state. And learning that one thing affects another thing, that affects a bunch of others and leads to them have their seventh birthday party in the state of Washington.


So how do I teach it? Join us next time to find out!


Happy Teaching!


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