Even as an adult, it can be so difficult to take control of your life when it seems like your days are not dictated by you. Our plates get fuller and fuller, things get pushed back to the end of the to-dos, and we start to neglect the things that make us happy. We have to schedule our days in neat little time allotments to make sense of it all and when one thing runs over (I’m looking at you, homework time) it can start to crumble apart!

Children especially, whose days are usually dictated by their parents and teachers, struggle with time management. It can be difficult for them to understand that if they just got their homework done quickly, i.e. working really hard for a short period of time rather than taking breaks and making homework last all night, that they’ll have more time to play. Now that virtual learning days are getting longer with no breaks in our daily chores and responsibilities, helping your children to master independent time management skills is crucial for their own sanity and ours! Even though it might seem like the most boring of all boring skills, there are ways to excite your child about being proactive and organized. It’s all about leveraging the power of play!

Time Management Tips for Parents

You may want to take control of your life, but kids don't want to be ordered around.

Life. Is. Unpredictable. There’s no shame in getting behind or making a few mad dashes — such is life! But with that said, your kiddos want to feel confident, empowered, and independent and they don’t want to be ordered around when the clock is ticking. To take control of your life (and thus help your kids manage their own time better) here are some things to keep in mind:

  • Always try to build in extra time if possible to get from point A to point B: When there’s less pressure, it results in calmer interactions between you and your little ones.
  • Some kids have a hard time transitioning from one thing to another. If possible, give them the opportunity to decompress from one thing before moving on to the next.
  • Lead by example. This is how children learn all their life skills! Time management isn’t easy, especially with kids, but the more you teach them about preparation and proactivity by leading as an example, the better they will learn.
  • Start before they’re teens. Time management isn’t just for complex school projects, sports practices, or meetings, it’s a life skill that is vital at any age! The sooner you start them, the better prepared they will be for their teens and beyond.
  • Don’t overschedule your kids. Where is the fun in that? Predictability is crucial for child development, but when we’re pigeon holed into a tight schedule it doesn’t leave room for spontaneity or creativity. If you’re a stickler for a schedule, remember to pencil in some free time.

Time Management Activities

It’s no surprise that you wouldn’t teach your 13 year old about time management in the same way that you’d teach your 6 year old. Nonetheless, it’s never too early to start teaching your kids about time management and how to take control of your life. Here are some tips to get started age by age:

  • For Pre-K: At this stage, you are trying to help children understand the passage of time. Though it may seem too abstract, teaching your kids about time using these examples/lessons is a great start:
Teaching kids about the seasons helps them understand the passage of time and how to take control of your life.
    • Teach them about the seasons. Seeing nature change around them time after time year after year is a great way to help children understand time. Try foraging to help them notice the different stages that plants go through in their own life cycles.
    • Practice waiting. This one might not sound fun? chances are it won’t be your child’s favorite game either. Still, it doesn’t have to be as clear cut as sitting and waiting X minutes before you give them a dessert. If they really want to go to a park, the zoo, play with friends, etc., try to plan it a few days in advance to help instill patience and how to understand time.
  • For K-2nd Grade:
    • They might not be ready to read clocks just yet, but they can still use visual clues to understand the passage of time. Use a colorful fun clock like this app to visually represent how much time is left to play, do homework, or wait in time out.
    • Be clear about the consequences of poor time management. There is no shortage of time-bound assignments for children and adults. In order to fully understand and practice good time management, kids need to understand the consequences of mismanagement. For instance, if kids don’t use their homework time to do their homework today, they might not get playtime tomorrow.
  • For 3rd-5th Grade: Now that they understand the importance of patience and time management (even if they don’t like it) they are ready to start prioritizing their time.
Making a calendar will help you take control of your life.
    • Make a calendar/schedule together. Break out the stickers, colored pencils, and glitter glue and work on a collaborative calendar together. This will help them to get excited and show that you can take control of your life and how your time is spent. It also gives you an opportunity to describe how long something might take and gives them a better handle on how a day can become filled.
    • Teach priorities in a fun way. It might be difficult for your child to understand why there is only room for one hour of painting time today when the day is so long. To help your little one get a handle on how long certain activities take, you can use jars as a great visual representation. For this activity, you can have red beans (for example) denote a certain activity like eating, sleeping, and getting dressed. Rice can represent play time. Lentils can represent homework time. Now, begin filling the jar with relative amounts of food and show how much time there is left in the day by showing how much space is left in the jar. This will help them to understand that sometimes you need to get the tough things out of the way in order to have more time to play!

Breaking up the school day with fun play activities is a proven way to help keep your kids motivated. You can help break up the day with fun activities like HAPPÉ’s “Mission I’m Possible” challenges and other independent play activities to help them manage their own time better. Time management will always fall flat if they are only given orders and not treated like autonomous human beings. Remember that play is the most powerful tool for teaching children almost any subject, time management included.