“I have a birthday yesterday. Tomorrow on my birthday I gonna be four.”

“We play that game yesternight.”

“When I was two I’m going to eat cake.”

Concepts of time are some of the trickiest for our kids to grasp. Words and phrases like yesterday, tomorrow, next week, and last year are abstract and difficult to understand for children who are just learning their place in the world, or are just beginning to get a handle on how events are sequenced. Parents often ask how to help these children understand concepts of time and sequence. Our answer, without fail: USE VISUALS. Some of our favorite strategies are listed below.

Time Timer

The Time Timer is an excellent visual for helping children understand how much time is left for a particular activity. When you set the timer, the amount of time left is covered in red. As time elapses, the red disappears. We use this visual to help children understand how long they have left to play before time to clean up, or move on to another activity. The timer is readily available on Amazon, and is also available as an app. You could also use a clock and a dry-erase marker to show your child when something will happen, like the one in this example from http://abbypediatricot.blogspot.com/2013/03/teaching-elapsed-time.html:


Buy a large desk or wall calendar to use at home. Calendars are great to use in planning activities, or talking through the day or week with your child (depending on their developmental level). You can also use them to review the day’s activities. Look back at the calendar and talk through what happened. You can incorporate terms like “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow.” Use visuals as simple as “yesterday”/”today”/”tomorrow” written on post-its that you can stick and re-stick to the appropriate days each morning. Depending on your child’s age, they may need simple picture symbols paired with the words on the calendar to understand the activities listed.


Visual Schedules

We often recommend that parents use a visual schedule at home to help children understand the sequence of events planned. You can use written words only, line drawings, or actual photographs, depending on your child’s age and developmental level. You can then use words that make the sequence clear (e.g., “After Emerge…” “before we eat dinner…”). With some children, it works well to remove or erase the symbol for each activity after it is completed.


Times of Day Visual

For children who struggle to understand times of day (this morning v. lunchtime v. afternoon v. evening), use a visual that shows the progression outside. You can print out and laminate a visual like this:

Time of Day visual

And then use a dry-erase marker to list out the activities planned alongside each time of day.


Pairing visuals along with time words is an important step in helping children grasp time and sequence concepts!

To learn more about the services our speech/language pathologists at Emerge can offer, click here.



Blog post by Kelly Goad, MA, CCC-SLP