Wednesday, February 1, 2012

GIVEAWAY: Time Timer: Time to Build Independence

WHAT: Time Timer 3"
DOES: provides a visual and spatial representation of elapsed time; 3-inch model is great for individual use at home or at school (or at work for the grown-up)
INVEST: $30.00 (sometimes you might find it on sale on other websites)
TOOLS: Family Fix-it; I Can Take Care of Myself; Social Scene Helper (helps those who needs more defined time limits during open-ended playtimes)
Giveaway details below

Okay, today is a gadget day.  When I first started this site, I promised myself that I would devote space to gadgets because I really believe that certain things, however small, can make a big impact in your home or classroom.  The actual act of shopping for gadgets to improve your child's life also means that you are thinking of your goals for this child. In this busy world of ours, I think something as simple as that is not something we do everyday. In this respect, the actual purchase can mark the start of your investment and the beginning of a scary thing called hope.  

This is not to say that you must buy things to improve your child's skills.  To that, I can only speak for myself.  I am guilty of needing novelty in my life to tackle old problems.

NOT a "Splurge Item" 

I thought I was making yet another need-something-new-purchase one day when I bought the Time Timer. I felt like I was "treating" myself.  I had other timers at home.  They cost about $7-8 in kitchen product stores. However, the Time Timer I bought was definitely over $20.  Why should I buy it?  "I just can't," I first said to myself.

But then you look at it and you just sort of know:  This is going to be a good thing.  The hallmark trait of this timer is that a red disc disappears as your preset time allotment diminishes.  Kidspeak: no more red= no more time.

For kids, you just can't be any clearer than that.

The only gadgets in my house that are used more than our Time Timer are our T.V. remote control and our cell phones.   Especially on weekdays, the Nintendo DS and the Nintendo Wii in our home do not get as much play as our Time Timer.  It has become an indispensable part of our everyday life.  If my kids ever broke it, I would order a new one right away.

For those of you, who don't see what I see, here is my big hint:  Yes, this is a tool to help kids know when time is up but my use goes beyond that.  I am using this timer to teach my kids something very difficult: I am teaching them to stop needing their mother so much.

Learn to "Feel" Time

Okay, I am not making sense here but I do like to call upon Alison Berkeley, one of my go-to educational experts and co-director of Emerge and See Education Center.  She has a really down-to-earth approach with kids that I love and on an equally high level, she is very key on the science of learning.

Alison has used many timers in the past including the Time Timer and I thought we'd talk about how useful they were to get kids to hurry up.  However, what she first said was totally unexpected.  Alison's first comment was that one of the biggest problems she encountered when teaching any child about time is that she must take an abstract concept like time and make it incredibly concrete.

I was stumped.  Whenever I used a timer for my kids, I didn't think I was teaching my kids the concept of time.  I just thought they would watch that red disc disappear so they know I am about to ask them to stop playing and get into the bath (or go do your homework, or take a break, etc...)

"This timer takes time, which is elusive, and makes it not just visual but you also give it spatial recognition," said Alison.  Oh my, well look at that! I was teaching them the concept of time with my Time Timer without even knowing it.  Well I just gave myself a high-five because my kid is a spatial learner and so whatever he learns with spatial representation is going to sink deeper into his head.

"When you say to a child, 'you're in Time Out for one minute.'  Well, one minute can feel like an hour to them," Alison explained.  "One minute can also feel like a second."   To Alison, timers give children the concept of the regularity of elapsed time, "One minute is one minute always, and that 15 minutes feels like this and that 30 minutes feels like this."

This made sense to me.  Time is something that is felt.  It's not just read on a clock.  "You don't even have to be a master at telling time to use it," Alison said.  I totally agree.  I started using the Time Timer with Number 2 when he was just 2 years old.  He loved it but he doesn't know how to read an analog clock yet.  He's still in preschool but I am quite certain he knows what 15 minutes feels like.

The 3 inch model can go just about anywhere.

Having Faith in Promises

Alison uses timers for more structured activities such as academic work. "Without the timer, you are just throwing them into the unknown," she said.  However, if the kids know that they are only going to be doing it for 15 minutes then they don't feel like it's a big deal and they get through it.

And here's another something interesting: Alison said that for the kids who have a short attention span, they themselves are aware that at a certain point, they will become frustrated and distracted.  However, with a timer, it gives kids the opportunity to talk themselves through it by acknowledging that there is a break after 15 minutes.

And that is when I realized the true gift of my Time Timer.  It is the gift of a promise. It is a promise from a teacher to a student that she will appear and congratulate him when the red has vanished and he has done his job.  It is a promise from my son to himself that X number of minutes in his day have gone past.  It is no different from currency, the promise from a government that dollars have real value.

There are more promises, especially from me to Number 1. Here's an example:  He does his homework with the Time Timer now because one day, I finally forced myself to see that my yelling "FOCUS! Stop looking out the window!" will only go as far as "helping" him get homework done.  But it is not helping him do it on his own.

Now, everyday, I give him the timer. (disclosure: sometimes I do still yell) When I have my best parenting brain on, I look at him and tell him to set it for 2 minutes and see how many math problems he finished when it beeps. He should then expect himself to finish approximately the same number of problems every time it beeps (2 minutes) and as he goes further down the page, he may get less problems done because they get harder (but by then, he is likely in the swing of things). Every time the timer beeps, he has to reset it.  It's his own reminder to keep working.  Two minutes might be small to you but everyone is different.  He has a greater attention span earlier in the day and so during those hours, I might then set it for five minutes.  Heck, he might then set it for five.  That is the beauty of this method.  He sets the challenge (with my guidance for now).

To be sure, this routine is not fool-proof.  But on those days when it has worked, I was really proud of him. However, on those days when it doesn't, it is a sign to me that he needs my help.  That is part of my promise as a mother because it is a tool and it is both of us who are using it but eventually it will just be him.   For now, my promise is that I am listening to the beeps (some, not all) and occasionally peeking to make sure he is on task.  The beeps are also reminders to him of the promises that he made to himself to finish his homework so he can play.

So simple, kids can use it but make sure they don't play with it. 

Time to Let Go and Be Independent

Alison understands my homework scenario quite well and sees other children using timers in the same way.  "They self-motivate as opposed to externally motivate."

What does self-motivation bring? Alison says, "it's the key to your independence so that if Mom isn't there, if your teacher isn't there, if nobody's around, you still have to get certain things in life done and you have to do them independently."  When Alison says this, I am no longer thinking about my son, I am thinking about me and my world of grown-ups.  I am thinking about how time-management is a major problem for me and how it is probably one of the most, if not THE most prevalent problem in any workplace.

I then go back to thinking of Number 1 and Number 2 and how they had some early exposure to learning about elapsed time through a Time Timer.  By now I have long forgotten that this timer costs more than an egg timer.  Instead, I am patting myself on the back that I have two Time Timers sitting in my home (actually three because one is an iTouch app)  We actually never know where the Time Timers are because they travel from room to room for various purposes including both play and work.  On most occasions the Time Timer is with the kids and I go to another room to get work done.

"The whole thing is to be able to think through, plan, manage your time and do it as independently as possible so that you can set them free," Alison tells us, "and they do what they have to do on time."

I wish I could tell you that I had such brilliant intentions when I bought my first Time Timer.  I did not.  I merely thought that the signature red disc was a more helpful way for my child to understand that he was running out of time.  While it definitely does that, it is now quite obvious that it can do so much more.  I look forward to writing another Time Timer (I have three different kinds) review to discuss more practical uses.  There are lots of varieties including iPhone apps so shop around!

Master User (and Purveyor) of Toys as Tools - A Tribute

This post is dedicated to Julie Azuma, mother and entrepreneur extraordinaire and the Founder and Owner of Different Roads to Learning, an online store that sells therapeutic products (including toys) that are specifically designed or are just plain great for kids who learn differently.  Julie is definitely someone who believes that toys are tools.  In fact, she introduced me to some of my earliest toolbox favorites when I was just starting to understand that toys are really tools in a parent's toolchest.  You can read about her incredible journey in my former blog, Can Mom Be Calm?   I especially want to pay tribute to Julie and her store because it was at Different Roads to Learning that I first caught my love-at-first-sight glimpse of the Time Timer.  

I also want to make a special note to my fellow readers who do not have children with special needs but like using toys as tools.   Do yourself a giant favor by shopping at stores for children with special needs like Different Roads to Learning whether or not your child has any special needs or talents or gifts.  After a couple of purchases, you might become a little miffed as you wonder why such great toys and gadgets aren't available out there in the mainstream or why you can't have such pleasant shopping experiences elsewhere because these special needs stores do not carry junk. 

The toys that you see at these shops are going to be very high quality because many therapists rely on them to use with kids session after session.  Moreover, these stores are stocking items with your developmental goals already in mind.  Like many Toys are Tools readers ('cause I'm starting to understand you a little more now), these stores pay less attention to silly trends and more attention to what actually works!  The last toy purchase I made at Different Roads to Learning was for a child who had no special diagnosis other than that he was addicted to having fun.


In honor of Alison and all the teachers out there, this giveaway encourages entrants to give the gift of the Time Timer to a special teacher.  Teachers, feel free to enter for yourselves! Homeschool teachers, afterschool teachers and tutors are eligible too.  Parents are definitely eligible as well since many of you are doing a lot of teaching at home.  It's up to you.  If you think your teacher would like this, spread the word, tell the other parents in your child's class to enter.  Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products in exchange for the publication of this post. I am a proud purchaser of my own Time Timers. Time Timer LLC did provide Alison with her own timer since Alison currently did not have one (but as an educator, she had used them in the past many times).  Receipt of the timer was not contingent upon writing a review.   However, with the generosity of Time Timer LLC, Toys are Tools is proud to present yet another awesome giveaway.   All photos and videos courtesy: Time Timer LLC


  1. This is a great tool. I've seen it used in my son's classroom. I've been wanting one and haven't gotten it yet. Fingers crossed!

  2. This looks really useful! I will have to check it out. Thanks for the rec!

  3. I am a parent who works as a kindergarten-teacher, for my own kids an for many other. I have been asking my supervisors for a long time to be able to buy a Time Timer, but they don´t seen to realise the use for it! This would be a perfect opportunity to show them how great this product is, and get them to invest in more Time Timers!!

    Greetings from Lisa in Sweden

  4. My son's teacher is such a wonderful and loving woman. She goes above and beyond to set all her students up for success. Last year, when my son was having major sensory issues, she didn't throw her hands up, she brainstormed with therapists, the principal and us to help our son get his sensory needs met appropriately so that he could learn. Now, he is in first grade, still in her class and this morning he read me a book! I think this tool would be a wonderful addition to her classroom.

  5. What a great idea. We've used timers with little success because they just suddenly go off with no warning, but having one with this type of visual would be great.

  6. These time timers are Required in every classroom at The Quad! They are one of the most successful TOOLS ever!

  7. This looks like it could solve a lot of arguing & whining in my home. Look forward to trying it!

  8. This would be very helpful for my son with ADHD.

  9. Great tool for my son with ADHD. Regular timers are just not working.

  10. We use the ap and I would love the clock! The ap is AWESOME, but there are times that we could use a physical clock (like when I need my phone!).

  11. The Time Timer would really help my son with transitions.

  12. Time Timers are a great concept for getting children on task and in sync with time... I am my child's homeschool teacher, but he also has teachers at co-op. Lending a Time Timer out at co-op can help others teach him as well as introduce the benies of Time Timers to other parents and children.

  13. I never thought about using it beyond, "Bing! Time is up. Put away the video game and start your homework!" Using it to help a kid focus on a task, like math problems -- in timed increments -- is brilliant! Great post. I'd love to enter the drawing to hopefully win one of these great tools. And hey -- even if I don't win, I'm definitely getting one anyway!

  14. We have been using the iPhone timer because every time I have bought a timer, it just does not work. I look forward to using one that works!

  15. We purchased this timer and while I love the concept, I have a really big problem with the execution. I haven't seen it mentioned elsewhere, so now I'm thinking that perhaps our timer is defective. When the time runs out, the "ding" is so quiet that you really can never hear it unless you are looking right at it and anticipating it. Which makes it sort of useless in some ways. However, I often set it in addition to setting a stove timer, and that helps. Just wish I didn't have to do both.