Life Style

Education: appropriating the notion of time, a real challenge for the child

“When you were little, what were the dinosaurs like? » What parent or grandparent has never heard this type of question? Such childish words say with flavor how difficult it is to acquire the notion of time. “She is not innate. Moreover, it is not obvious to us adults. emphasizes the chronobiologist Claire Leconte, quoting Saint Augustine: “ What then is time? If no one asks me, I know; but that I want to explain it to the request, I do not know it! »

→ MAINTENANCE. Learning in toddlers: “Through language, the parent transmits what he is”

In any case, continues this researcher, “the sense of temporality requires learning and accompaniment”. An accompaniment which passes in particular, with the babies, by the establishment of rituals, such as the bath or the walk. “Scheduling them every day at the same time allows the toddler to be part of a cyclical time that reassures him. »

“Make visible what is not”

Before the age of 3, the child begins to become aware of the length of time (when he is asked to wait, for example, during the preparation of the meal) and of the fact that one cannot always obtain what one wants in the second. It is necessary to wait until the age of 4 or 5 years for him to start handling notions such as “before”, “now”, “after”.

→ REPORT. In kindergarten, rituals to better understand the passage of time

“We can help him in this learning process by asking him to arrange photos showing him at different times of the day in chronological order. Or, later, by asking him what are, in order, the months of the year when events that matter to him occur (birthday, Christmas, back to school, etc.), suggests the researcher. Having a precise idea of ​​what time is presupposes having developed language skills and a mastery of numbers and their succession., she comments.

Moreover, it is only between 7 and 10 years that the notion of long, linear and irreversible time is fully acquired. An awareness that can be painful when it occurs during a move, or even the death of a grandparent… To help a child become familiar with the notion of time, you need “to make visible what is not, underlines Bernadette Guéritte-Hess, author of books on the subject (read the tracks). This can include keeping a life diary, in which the little one records the events that mark his daily life., she says.

→ MAINTENANCE. Pedagogy: “Patience or the art of inhabiting the wait”

This speech therapist evokes a personal episode to illustrate her point: “When I gave birth to my second child, my eldest was only 3 years old. Shortly before, I had warned him that I would be leaving for the maternity ward for a period which at the time lasted ten days. It was totally abstract for him. So I hung 20 sheets near his bed asking him to draw a picture for me when I woke up after every night and every nap. I explained to him that when there were no more leaves left, I would go home. This helped him through this period and also allowed him to visualize the flow of time. »

Represent History

Even much older, the child or the young teenager can experience difficulties in representing the long time, as Paul Mulhoven regularly observes, professor of history-geography in a college in the Ile-de-France region. “It is not just about difficulties in dating an event or placing several periods in chronological order. Many young people, big consumers of films, series, videos, develop a cinematographic, timeless vision of History. My students often ask me if such an event long before the invention of cinema has been filmed…”

Even if this does not allow us to go back far in time, the teacher recommends that parents or grandparents rely on family history to help the child to represent History with a capital H. “Before the teachers imposed a chronology quantified, time was above all family, made up of anecdotes or events concerning a parent, a grandfather. People identified themselves by talking about the time of the great-uncle or the great-grandfather. A bit like the historians of Antiquity, who dated a fact by mentioning the name of the emperor of the time. »

The school involved

The notion of time is largely acquired in the family circle, but also during activities such as sport, where the stopwatch often plays the role of referee. The school is also called upon to help the pupils to appropriate it personally. “This notion fascinates and sometimes worries students, who often, with the pandemic and climate change, can no longer project themselves into the future and no longer imagine themselves in the social patterns that were ours, having a job. , start a family one day”, notes Valérie Dufayet, professor of philosophy in a Catholic high school in Marseille.

Basically, believes this professor, “Learning that philosophers have different perceptions of time helps to put the pressure that time exerts on them into perspective, at the age of metamorphoses and choices of orientation”. Unsurprisingly, this generation, often in search of immediate experiences, “is interested in thinkers like the Stoics, who postulate a certain freedom in the face of time”.

Paul Ricœur and Instagram stories

Valérie Dufayet also talks to her students about Paul Ricœur, who says that “We build ourselves by telling, by being told…” A way of appropriating time, “like young people do with their stories on Instagram”. One thing is certain: a young person who has not acquired a sense of temporality finds himself in a bad position in everyday situations. “The simple fact of having to be at such a place, for such a time, with a change of bus and schedules to master, can represent an insurmountable difficulty”, observes Claire Leconte.

Above all, such a person is condemned to live from day to day, without necessarily grasping the significance of his actions in the future. Likewise, in the absence of projection, it can experience neither patience, nor perseverance, nor hope. “She doesn’t get it, summarizes the researcher, that time can be his ally. »


Dyschronia, time perception disorder

Dyschronia is part of the “dys”, the galaxy of cognitive disorders (dyslexia, dyspraxia, etc.).

This is a difficulty in grasping the notion of time, which, for the children concerned, often boils down to yesterday and tomorrow.

These often do not know how to tell in which month or which season they are located.

They struggle to situate a fact in the past and fail to project themselves into the future.

Little studied, dyschrony seems to frequently accompany other “dys” disorders or attention disorders.



► Time and the child, by Bernadette Guéritte-Hess, Le Pommier, 2011, €25. This book helps to understand how the child’s thought is structured in and over time. It offers many avenues for parents, teachers or carers to help the child to tame this complex concept.

► Wait… Hurry up! Parents’ time, children’s time, by Geneviève Djénati, The Archipelago, 2014, €18.95. Written by a psychologist and psychotherapist, this book invites us to preserve the rhythms of the child, not to ask him to adapt to our frantic lives as adults. The child needs time to develop, pleads Geneviève Djénati.

An album

► My grandfather’s diary, by Laura Westlake, Ed. of Man, 2020, €18.90. This is an album of memories, intended for grandchildren. The grandfather is invited to complete a family tree, to record his childhood memories, to deliver advice likely to help his readers grow up, etc.

A game

Classic Timeline, Asmodée, €9.90. In this board game, the winner is the one who manages to classify cards (events, discoveries, inventions, music, etc.) chronologically. There are different thematic versions, on the history of France, for example.


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