At What Time?

In this lesson, children will connect activities in their day to the various times of the day.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurements

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Recognizing the attributes of time
  • Comparing and ordering objects according to time
  • Selecting an appropriate unit and tool for the attribute being measured
  • Using tools to measure
  • Developing common referents for measures to make comparisons and estimates

At What Time?

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, The Grouchy Ladybug, by Eric Carle
  • A large piece of paper/chart paper for display in front of the group. The piece of paper should be divided into the times of the day. The times of the day can be represented by the position of the sun. Divide the paper into four sections. The first section should have a picture of the sun rising and should be labeled “Morning.” The second section should have a picture of the sun high in the sky and be labeled “Afternoon.” The third section should have the sun setting and be labeled “Evening.” The fourth section should have a picture of the moon in a dark sky and should be labeled “Night.”
  • Slips of paper with pictures of various activities that the children engage in throughout the day (e.g., a picture of a child eating breakfast, a picture of a child playing on a playground, etc.). There should be at least as many slips of paper with pictures on them as there are children in your group. It may be difficult to come up with a lot of activities for nighttime, so this is a good time to get creative (good nighttime pictures might include a a cow jumping over the moon, a picture of a child dreaming, a picture of a child getting into bed or a picture of an adult reading a bedtime story to a child).
  • Individual sheets of paper that replicate the big chart divided into the times of the day
  • One timeline for each child
  • Crayons, markers, pencils and tape
  • A Judy Clock (or another clock made for children to manipulate as they learn how to tell time on a clock with hands)

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. Ask the children what time it is. Compile their responses and note what actions they take to come up with the time of day. Do they look for a clock? Do they say “morning”? Do they say “I don’t know how to tell time”?
  2. Show the children what time it is on the Judy Clock. Turn the big hand (the minute hand) around the face of the clock so that the children can see the little hand (hour hand) moving as you turn the minute hand. Explain this action to the children. Say: “Notice that, as I move the minute hand (the bigger hand around the clock), the hour hand (the smaller hand) moves all by itself.” Then demonstrate that it is not possible to move the hands backwards or in a counterclockwise motion. Say: “Notice that I cannot move the hands of the clock backwards. Time only moves forwards. You cannot go back in time.”
  3. Ask again if it is morning, afternoon, evening or night. State the answer: “It is 10 o’clock in the morning.”
  4. Ask what sort of activities the children do in the morning, afternoon, evening and at night.
  5. Explain that today the children are going to read a book about a ladybug who has a very busy day meeting many different insects. Say: “We are going to see all of the friends that the ladybug meets throughout the day and the time of day that she meets each friend.”
  6. Introduce the book, The Grouchy Ladybug, by Eric Carle. Say: “Here is my ladybug friend. Please notice where the sun is in each picture. I also want you to notice the pages that have clocks. When you see a clock on the page, raise your hand. Are you ready to go on an adventure with the ladybug?”
  7. Read the book. Pause to point out where the sun is in each picture and connect the sun’s rotation pattern to the time. When book reads: “At nine o’clock, it almost flew into a sparrow,” ask: “Who can tell me the position of the sun in this picture?  It is not at the top of the page, or high in the sky, but it is closer to getting there. Is it still morning time?”  Field a few responses and then state that it is morning and that the sun is rising.
  8. Point out the clock as it occurs in the book. Ask a child to turn the hands of the Judy Clock to make it look like the clock in the book. When the clock reads 9:00, explain that when the time is 9:00, the hour hand (the small hand) is on the nine and the minute hand (the big hand) is on the 12, the hour.
  9. Explain that the clock and the sun are both tools used to tell time. When the book reads: “At 12 noon it spotted a boa constrictor,” ask: “Who can tell me the position of the sun in this picture?”  Say: “Yes, the sun is at the very top of the page. When it is 12 noon, the sun is as high as it can go in the sky. The sun is directly above us when it is 12 noon.”
  10. Point out the clock. Ask a child to turn the hands of the Judy Clock to make it look like the clock in the book. Explain that, when the time is 12 noon, both hands of the clock are on the 12.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Explain to the children that they will now receive pieces of paper that have pictures of activities that happen throughout the day. Their job is to decide whether this activity happens in the morning, the afternoon, the evening or during the night. Explain that they are going to create a timeline of events that happen throughout the day.
  2. Explain to the children that a timeline is a visual representation of time. Say: “With our activity pictures, we are going to create a timeline of events that happen throughout our day.”
  3. Model, with your own activity, where that activity would go. For example, say: “I have a picture of a girl brushing her teeth. Where do you think I should put this picture?  Morning, afternoon, evening or night?”  Say: “Yes, I could place it in the morning column because I brush my teeth in the morning after I eat my breakfast. Is there another column where I can place my tooth-brushing activity?”  Say: “Yes, I could also place it in the night column because I brush my teeth before I go to bed at night.”  Be sure to reiterate what activity happens at what time of day.
  4. Ask the children to look at the activities and decide where on the timeline these activities should go. Call on each child to come up to the chart and place his/her activity in the correct column. Have the children explain why they chose to place their activities at a particular time of day.
  5. Create individual timelines. After the children are done creating the class timeline with their activities, each child will create his/her own timeline. Give each child a timeline sheet. Explain that their job is now to draw a picture of what they do at different times of the day. Ask: “What do you do in the morning?” Say: “You eat breakfast. So you would draw a picture of yourself eating breakfast.”
  6. Share the children’s work.  Have the children share their timelines and point out the similarities and differences. Say: “On (child’s name) timeline, we see that he plays soccer in the afternoon. Does anyone else play soccer in the afternoon?”
  7. Extend the activity by adding clocks to the timeline. Under each of the four headings, (morning, afternoon, evening and night) divide the section under each heading again into two or three columns. At the top of each new column, place a clock displaying a time that falls within the timeframe. For example, under “Afternoon,” there would be three columns that have clocks displaying three different times. The children can further extend their timelines by drawing several activities that happen throughout that time of day. The children can also put those events in chronological order. At noon and under the clock displaying noon, the child could draw themselves eating lunch; at 2 p.m. and under the clock displaying 2:00, the children could draw a picture of themselves playing at the playground and at 4 p.m. and under the clock displaying 4:00, the children could draw a picture of themselves reading a book.
  8. Display the children’s work. Displaying the children’s work is an important tool for communicating with parents, fostering community and helping children feel a sense of pride and accomplishment.

Additional Extensions

  • You can add clocks to the timeline and the children can add more activities during a specific time of day and put those activities in chronological order.
  • Make a book with prompts on each page. The book should have several pages that have the prompt: “At ________________ the ladybug met a ______________________.”  Tell the children that they will be making a book about the Grouchy Ladybug. They can have the ladybug meet anyone: any animal or person. Once they fill in the prompt, they can illustrate their page.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Time: The measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues (e.g.,”Morning time is when I eat breakfast.”)
  • Timeline: A graphic representation of the passage of time as a line (e.g.,”We will create a timeline that represents the activities that we do in a day and when we do those activities.”)
  • Hour: A period of time equal to one 24th of a day and divided into 60 minutes (e.g.,”The small hand on the clock is the hour hand and it points to the hour of the day.”)
  • Minute: A period of time equal to 60 seconds or a 60th of an hour (e.g.,”The big hand on the clock is the minute hand and it points to the minutes on the clock.”)
  • Morning: The period of time from sunrise to noon (e.g.,”What activities do you do in the morning?  In the morning, the sun is climbing into the sky.”)
  • Afternoon: The time from noon or lunchtime to evening (e.g.,”What activities do you do in the afternoon?  In the afternoon, the sun is high in the sky.”)
  • Evening: The period of time at the end of the day, usually from about six p.m. to bedtime (e.g.,”What activities do you do in the evening? In the evening, the sun is starting to set.”)
  • Night: The period of darkness in each 24 hours; the time from sunset to sunrise (e.g.,”What activities do you do at night? During the night, the moon is in the sky and the sun is asleep.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Need reminders of what time of day they do what activities
  • Need reminders when reading the book, The Grouchy Ladybug, to pay attention to the clock or pay attention to the position of the sun
Child care providers may:
  • Provide assistance in placing events in the day. Ask leading questions, such as:  “What do you do when you first wake up? It is morning when you wake up.”
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be able to connect times throughout the day with they do specific activities, such as: “I go to bed at 8 o’clock.”
  • Be able to tell time by the hour
Child care providers may:
  • Provide a sheet that asks specific time questions, such as:  “What time do you eat breakfast?” or “What time do you go to school?”
  • Provide worksheets that children can use to write the time underneath a clock that has the hour time (e.g., the clock face reads 7:00 and the children can write 7:00 underneath the clock)

Suggested Books

  • Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper (Boston: HMH Books, 1998)
  • The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle (New York: HarperCollins, 1996)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

Observe the position of the sun when outside and try these activities:

  • Take a clipboard, drawing paper and crayons outside and connect the time of day to the placement of the sun and draw their observations. Try to go outside at different times of the day to observe the position of the sun.
  • Tell the children the time of the day and have them observe where the sun is in the sky. Have them draw a picture of their observations. If they are able, they can write the time (2:00 o’clock) or, using a clock stamp, stamp the page and have the children draw the hands on the clock that represent the time.

Web Resources

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