Beyond the five senses: Time

There are many more senses to explore, such as the sense of time.

In elementary school, you were probably taught about five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. In reality, we can observe many other things beyond those five senses. Using all of our senses allows us to better understand the world around us and use those observations to make scientific predictions.

Sense of time

For myself, time seems to go faster the older I get. When I was in school, summer seemed to last forever with endless days of playing outside. Now it feels like Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day pass by before I even get my bicycle out. As our memories grow longer, does our sense of time change? Is the sense of time for children different because they haven’t lived as long? Our perception of time varies, and here are some experiments and questions related to it.

  1. Have children sit in a circle with their eyes shut and tell them all to raise their hand when they think one minute has passed. See how accurate they are. You could also take a video of this activity and have a helper hold up a sign when the minute has passed. After watching the video with the children, try the experiment again to see if they can improve.
  2. Do the experiment above with eyes open. Before starting the time, ask the children if they think they will be more accurate with their eyes open rather than shut.
  3. Do the same experiment with distracting noises or music in the background. See how that changes the perception of time.
  4. Do the same experiment while playing a game like “Duck, Duck, Goose.” Does time fly when you are having fun?
  5. Ask the children to accurately predict when recess is done. Offer a prize to students who can line up exactly when it is time to go in without any prompting. If they are late or early, no prize.
  6. Remove all clocks from the room and see how that affects the day. Ask the kids to predict when it is time to change activities without being told or seeing a clock. (This is often more difficult for teachers and parents to deal with than children.)
  7. Ask children the question, “What is time?” (This can be fun to ask adults too.)
  8. Ask children to predict how long certain activities will take, like getting dressed to go outside and play. Then, time them for those activities. (This might have the added benefit of them better understanding how long it takes to get ready to go.)
  9. Do good things come to those who wait? Tell the children they can get a small piece of candy for every five minutes they wait. Set out one piece of candy for each child on the table. If they wait patiently for the five minutes, they get only the one piece. If they wait 10 minutes without touching the candy, they will get two pieces. If they wait 15 minutes, they get three pieces. This can show how anticipation can alter our perception of time.

There is no time like the present to start these experiments and learn more about our sense of time and how to observe it.

Michigan State University Extension encourages families, daycares, school activities, 4-H clubs or any group working with young children to conduct these experiments. The focus of these lessons aren’t to simply impart knowledge, but to facilitate the joy of discovery and the exploration of the world around us. This is not designed to “give youth the answers,” but to empower them to ask questions and figure things out on their own. When a young person asks a question, resist the urge to answer it, and instead ask, “What do you think?”

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