Timers are a great way to keep kids focused, but you need the right timer for the job.
An energetic classroom tidy up may be perfect for some upbeat music with a large onscreen countdown, but a quiet, visual representation of time passing is just the ticket for 15 minutes of concentrating.
Used with thought, a timer can
be used to create energy around an activity,
increase a child’s sense of control (by improving understanding of how long is left for a task)
enhance time management skills
visually represent how long a child may enjoy an activity
get teeth properly brushed (!)
Beware the downsides – some children just hate timers as they
can increase stress levels
decrease sense of control (when feeling pressurised)
cause disengagement (not prepared to try)
There are a lot of options available, so you really can tailor your timer to both the task and the child.
Digital or physical?
Where is the activity going to take place?
Do you want the timer to fill the screen, or be visible in a corner of the screen whilst another online activity is taking place?
Countdown or timer?
Expect a very different response to the following countdown challenges:
“How many can you finish in 2 minutes” (incentivising for some, stressful for others)
“Who can finish the most in 2 minutes” (highly competitive)
“Can you finish more in 2 minutes than you did yesterday” (ie try to better your own score)
If the element of competition or limited time period is too much, then
instead of using a decreasing countdown, use a timer (starting at zero) to time how long a task takes,
reduce peer competition by making it all about the child – can they beat their OWN time?
Depending on the age and ability of the child, displays can be numbers, words or a visual representation such as a sand timer, or a picture that is slowly revealed as the time passes.
Background noise during the task
The options range from silent to music or video
Time’s Up noise
This is another factor that will affect enjoyment and stress levels so it is worth giving some thought. The options range from no noise at all to an exploding bomb…
TOP FIVE FREE TIMERS
online-stopwatch.com is very comprehensive, and great for use in a classroom as the various range of timers uses graphics and fill the screen. Choose from classic timers, exploding timers and themed timers/ countdowns. There is no noise whilst the timer runs, and you can choose your sound for the end
classtools.net offer a digital countdown timer. The graphics are very limited, but you can customise to add your own music or video
Harmony Hollow's Cool Timer has a lot of options. Once downloaded you can create a small timer to run in a corner of the main screen. You can opt for numbers or visual representation of the elapsed time, record your own alarm sounds and many other features. Note - this will only run on Windows. Deluxe paid for features are available.
e.ggtimer.com is a very simple countdown timer that fills the whole screen. It is easy to use (although a little uninspiring). Just type the allotted time into the box and press start. As an unusual extra it can deal with timed reps. eg 5 minutes followed by another 5 minutes
visnos.com offers a large full screen clock face to countdown your chosen time. It makes a ticking noise, and at your option, a bell to mark when time is up. This programme can measure minutes or seconds, but not a mixture
Don't forget that Youtube offers lots of timers with music or video (but they tend to run for a fixed time eg 3 or 5 minutes) and an iPhone has a timer/stopwatch feature built in under the "Clock" function.