# Could a Sand Timer Help Solve Your Homework Problems?

Hourglass

"An hourglass (sandglass, sand timer, sand clock, egg timer) measures the passage of a few minutes or an hour of time".
The earliest hourglass appears in 1338.

During the voyage of Ferdinand Magellan around the globe, his vessels kept 18 hourglasses per ship. It was the job of a ship's page to turn the hourglasses and thus provide the times for the ship's log.

It is amazing that during the passage of time, an hourglass has had so many purposes, from logging time at sea, use in industry and churches to cookery.

As a teacher in a primary school, this simple way of measuring time, has also served many purposes in my busy classrooms. Many of the ideas I will be sharing are 'tried and tested' ideas used by many teachers. However, I am sure that these ideas could be used by parents as strategies in a range of everyday situations.

One day, my 5 year old nephew came to visit my classroom and took an instant interest in one of the sand timers. So much so, that his mum decided to buy one for him (a five minute one). He loved playing with it and watching the sand fall through.

Three years later, he was sat 'doing his homework 'with his dad, or rather sat 'protesting' about his homework and the situation was becoming stressful for all. I went to get that same sand timer and used it to help him 'time' how long it took him to write each sentence. When he needed 'thinking time' rather than becoming frustrated as the sand fell through, he had the option to turn it on its side. By doing this it wasn't just a mad panic against the sand timer rather than a healthy competitive task. And the end result? Completed homework in less time than it would have taken and a very happy nephew (and mum and dad)!

So here are some suggestions and ideas which I hope you find helpful.

1. Use a sand timer to time activities, such as getting dressed, tidying away or finishing breakfast.
2. Sand timers will give children an awareness of the passing of time and how long 'a minute' feels like. This will help them in their understanding of time.
3. Use different 'times' to reflect different activities. For short activities (such as write your name on your homework) use a 1 minute and for longer activities use 3 or 5 minutes (such as tidying up or packing a game away).
4. Sand timers can promote independence and the ability to make choices. As in the homework example, children enjoy the responsibility of turning the sand timer on its side for extra 'thinking time' or for a break from the activity.
5. For older children or when they are used to using a sand timer, children can then set themselves their own targets and times for an activity to be finished.
6. Sitting and watching the sand slip through a sand timer is a very calming thing to do. If a child needs to calm down, try this technique and you will probably find that a solution can be reached in a much more positive way.
7. Use a sand timer for siblings or when friends come to play. It's a great way to dissolve disputes over who has had a longer go on a game or toy. Again, for older children, let them decide how long each turn should be. This is a necessary life skill of negotiation and reaching agreements!
8. Like anything, overuse will breed familiarity and therefore won't work. Use the ideas which work and don't force them! If it isn't working then try something else!
9. Finally, if you run out of ideas, why not ask your child for their suggestions. A question such as, "How can I use this sand timer to get you to eat your breakfast quicker?" opens up many avenues. Child love to 'be in charge' and be responsible. So, go on, give them a chance and I promise you that they will amaze you!

Emma Biddle - October 2010

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