Time is a construct, but we're stuck with it

This Cute Visual Timer Helps My Little Kid (& Me) Manage Transitions

A handy gadget for little procrastinators and their parents.

Had To Share
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I’d become increasingly aware that my constant “10 more minutes until [insert dreaded activity here]” warnings were failing to land with my 5-year-old, not just because he didn’t want to stop playing, but also because time is abstract and meaningless to him. As far as he was concerned, these endless daily warnings were arbitrary, entirely made up by me to ruin his day, and — worst of all — open to debate.

I’d heard from trusted parent-friends that visual timers can be especially helpful for kids with attention struggles, autism or ADHD, as well as for little kids who simply can’t tell time yet. And at just over $20, investing in one felt pretty low-stakes. Plus, the Time Timer MOD Home Edition is colorful and cute, and an inoffensive thing to add to a shelf in a kids’ room. So, with a big old “why not?” after one particularly trying bedtime, I added yet another thing that’s supposed to make parenting easier to my cart.

It took a while to get the hang of using it in the most helpful ways, but it does really help to have one of these around. I reach for it daily to level the playing field when conversations about timing arise with my kid — “Yep, you’ve got 15 more minutes until we need to go to swim class. I’ll show you on the timer!” — and to help keep all of us in sync in a way that still feels pretty chill. No more blaring phone alarms, or screaming, “Time’s up!”


  • Price: $24.95
  • Sizes: Time Timer brand makes many simple, visual timers in various sizes and colors, but the MOD Home Edition only comes in one size: 3.5" x 3.5".
  • Colors: Lake Day Blue, Dreamsicle Orange, Cotton Ball White, Pale Shale, Peony Pink, and Fern Green.
  • Who it’s for: Anyone, but it’s really helpful for kids who don’t yet know how to tell time or read a clock.
  • When to use: Bath time, bedtime, play time, TV time — use it to time anything your kid will need to stop doing after a certain number of minutes.
  • Pro-tip: I prefer to use it with the alarm sound off, so it’s not jarring at all. Instead, it just quietly runs out of time, giving a gentle visual signal that it’s time to move on to the next thing.

The specs: How a visual timer makes parenting a little easier

Time Timer suggests many, many uses for their colorful little visual timers, and I think every family will probably end up using it in slightly different ways depending on your kids’ ages and some trial and error. One of my favorite uses for the timer is as a way to say “yes” to things that we barely have time for but I know my kid is dying to do. For example, let’s say it’s bath time — actually, we should have been in the tub 20 minutes ago. But, he’s begging for some play time and I’ve barely seen him today so I say, “Yes, I’d love nothing more than to play an elaborate pretend game involving 137 Hot Wheels and your doctor kit! It’s almost bath time though, so we only have a few minutes.”

Before the Time Timer, I would have probably tried to set an alarm on my phone to keep us both on track for bedtime. Or, if I didn’t do that — because phone alarms are really annoying and ruin the vibe when you’re trying to be all present with your child — I would accidentally spend 30 minutes goofing around with Hot Wheels. Suddenly bath time, and therefore bedtime, are way off track.

With a Time Timer in our life, we both do a little better. In this example, I don’t even need to know what time it is — I already know that it’s bath time. I grab the Time Timer and decide we get 5 minutes. I set it, show him that we’ve got all that time to play before tub, and we play. As we quietly play, I glance at it occasionally, and when I see it’s run out, I point that out to him.

But the most surprisingly lovely use for the timer I’ve found is how I use it for myself. Even when we’re not in a time crunch, I’ll often set it for myself as a simple visual reminder that keeps me on track without needing to glance at a screen when I’m with my kids.

Other ways to use a visual timer with kids

There are probably endless uses for the Time Timer, but here are a few ideas for using a visual timer at home to help get everyone on the same page and keep transitions as smooth as possible. Use it to:

  • Manage screen time.
  • Visualize homework time, and help kids work in focused, timed blocks.
  • Help grown-ups stay on schedule without having to check phones.
  • Give a group of kids a shared, visual heads-up about when a playdate is going to end.

The results

I hoped the Time Timer would give context to the things I say all the time that are meaningless and frustrating to a kid who asks “how many tens that is” when I say bedtime isn’t for two more hours. It absolutely does that — “20 minutes until tub time” actually means something now. My kid can see the time set as I twist the little knob and a portion of the circle colors in, and can watch it run out as the color disappears until the whole circle is white again.

A surprisingly nice thing about using a visual timer to communicate with your kid about what to expect is that it also outsources the blame a bit, or it feels that way to me at least. It hasn’t been 10 minutes because I said it’s been 10 minutes. Instead, we can see together that the color on the Time Timer has run out. It’s not yet another thing I’m telling him that feels arbitrary — like having to wear socks or not pick his nose. Instead, it’s rooted in a simple, shared visual that we often set together.

Pros & cons


  • It helps my kid understand, visually, what it really means when I say “five minutes until bath time.”
  • It helps me stay on track with bedtime routines.
  • I have been known to use it as a kitchen timer, too.
  • You can turn the alarm sound on or off depending on your preference.


  • It’s not magic. On the hardest days, getting into the tub (and then out again) is still a battle, whether or not the timer has run out.
  • My child can monkey with it. Occasionally in fits of fury, he’ll run over and add more time, which sort of defeats the purpose. I usually just put it out of reach at that point, but it did make my whole effort feel a little silly.
  • It runs on a AA battery, so keep a package handy.


We use this inexpensive little device in more ways than I ever expected, and it’s certainly worth the low-level investment. It’s a handy tool for little kids and the grown-ups who are just trying to get everyone in bed by a reasonable hour so they have have a little time to themselves.

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