Telling Time

Auntie M asked me to write a post about why I don’t want my kids to learn how to tell time. Others have also wondered about this, asking if it there is some Waldorf philosophy around it. Part of it does relate to a general Waldorf philosophy about keeping kids in the present, but I have to admit that I also don’t want them to tell time for my own convenience. 

Having my kids be able to tell time would make my life more difficult. Right now, bedtime is when we say it is bedtime. Nap time is over when we say it is over.  “Time to leave the park” is when I feel like leaving (usually for good reason, like to go home to eat lunch before there is a major meltdown). If Katherine could tell time, it would be the end of my flexibility when it comes to adjusting the schedule based on my the kids’ needs. Sometimes I really need nap/quiet time to go until 3:15 so I can finish up a work email… sometimes Dave and I need bedtime to be at 7 instead of 7:30 because the kids are exhausted, or we need that extra half hour to just sit and eat dessert by ourselves. I can just imagine Katherine calling us on that: “It’s not bedtime, it’s only 7! Bedtime is at 7:30.” That is not what we need at the end of the day. 

However, there is good reason (other than my own convenience) to hold off on teaching young children to tell time. Waldorf teachers often talk about how important it is for children to stay present in the moment. Knowing what time it is does not benefit them, it takes them out of the present and prevents them from sinking into their play. It can also add an element of anxiety. I believe it is the parents’ job to worry about the time (i.e., getting out the door on time, getting to bed on time), and this burden should not fall on the child. As I’ve written before, one of the wonders of childhood is to not be burdened with time. I would like to preserve that wonder for as long as possible.

I have no doubt Katherine is capable of learning to tell time, and it would probably be fun to teach her, and she might even get some satisfaction out of it… but then what? After the novelty wore off she’d be stuck knowing what time it is. I see no benefit in that for her, especially since she would still have a 5-year-old concept of time - meaning she would be able to tell time from a clock, but she would not really know what to do with this information. If she saw it was 8:05am and knew we needed to leave at 8:15am, would she be able to figure out that her current pace was not going to get her ready in time and then actually move faster to accommodate running behind? Probably not. Even if she could, especially if she could, I would not want to place that on her. At least not yet. I’d rather give her as long as possible to enjoy not being tied to time. Soon enough she’ll be racing against the clock to get her homework done, wishing for time to pass quickly so she can go get her driver’s license, trying to slow time down when she realizes her children are growing up too fast… 

For now I’d rather she just play happily and not worry about how much longer she has or what is coming next and when.