Strategies To Teach Elapsed Time Concept In Fun And Easy Way

Last Updated on October 6, 2023 by Editorial Team

Time is considered to be one of the most valuable things ever; so much to an extent that it’s often said “The key is not in spending time, but in investing it.” However, learning the concept of time, and elapsing time can be a tough nut to crack. 

Mentioned that this post aims to focus on the concept of elapsed time, which requires evolved skills of learning to identify time and a clear understanding of time perception.

Here you can find a few strategies to teach your little one the concept of elapsed time in a fun and effective way!

What is elapsed time?

The terms “elapsed” and “time” Can be referred to separately to understand them better. Here, elapsed can be translated as something that is done, happened in the past, or passed, as known, is used as the measurable period of an event.

Thus elapsed time can be defined as the time that has passed or gone by. For example, Roy goes to school at 7:15 a.m. and comes back home at 1:15 p.m.; the time elapsed when he is in school will be 6 hours.

While learning to tell time might be the most basic and essential thing for an adult, it is an acquired skill for a child and requires tangible and kinesthetic ways for a better understanding of such concepts. These could include introducing activities and online games to their children, allowing them to associate creativity and play with multilayered concepts, like Time. 

When we talk about elapsed time, we engage in mathematical operations of subtraction, conversion of hours to minutes, minutes to seconds, etc. Such operations bring the concept closer to the bounds of estimation, where eventually, an individual learns to identify the elapsed time simply through estimation; however, it requires in-depth understanding and practice as a child. 

Strategies to teach and learn elapsed time effectively 

Now that we are aware of what exactly elapsed time is, let us also dive into what strategies can be used for the learning of this concept. 

Some of these strategies are: 

1. T- Chart 


Using T-Chart can be really helpful in teaching students the concept of elapsed time. Here, a large T is drawn on a sheet of paper. The left side of it comprises time stamps, and the right side comprises the hours and minutes difference between those time stamps. 

Now, if the stamps are like 4:26, it is preferable to round it off in the next timestamp, which is 4:30, and then move forward by mentioning its elapsed time of 0 hours and 4 minutes. After we have a timestamp for the “beginning” of the event and the “end” of the event, we mention their time difference on the right side of the “T”, and eventually add them later. 

2. The Number Line

Number line

It is a rather simple strategy to teach the concept. Here, the students are required to draw a number line with time stamps on it and denote the difference between those time stamps through number line jumps. 

If the beginning time stamp says 2:15 and the ending timestamp says 4:28, then the number line will begin with the timestamp of 2:15 on the left and make an hour-long jump to 3:15, followed by another hour-long jump to 4:15. 

Now, the remaining time shall be denoted by smaller jumps, which can also be divided into two, that is 4:15-4:25 and 4:25 to 4:28. These jumps will then be labeled with the time they depict, and upon completion of the number line adventure, the jumps can be added accordingly to find the elapsed time. A free printable can also be downloaded for the same. 

3. Anchor Charts

Anchor chart

The anchor charts are great ways to prompt the students to use their suitable ways of figuring out elapsed time. These charts could include questions like giving the beginning and end of the task and the student trying to find elapsed time. The other one could be where, either the beginning or the end time along with the elapsed time is given, and the student has to find the other timestamp using any of the methods, T chart, Number line, or Z/N method. 

4. Activities

Activities are a great way to teach students about concepts that have multiple layers. In fact, the research mentioned above also revealed that kinesthetic learning allows students to better understand concepts like those of elapsed time. 

Collaborative activities, while instilling creativity in the students, will help them understand the applications of the concept in various aspects of life, which is equally important to the formal understanding of the concept. 

5. Online Games 

With the digitalization of education and the world shifting its existence to digital platforms, it makes more sense for students to be able to learn through apps and games available on the network. They allow a free reign of play when it comes to learning out of the bounds of time and setting. 

A student can learn while playing these games, even when they are traveling.

6. Manipulatives 

Clock manipulative

There are innumerable manipulatives that can help students in understanding the concepts of elapsed time as they offer something that no other strategy does. They allow tactile learning, which is in fact, a boosting factor for memory.

The use of manipulatives like stopwatches, foam clocks, time rules, digital hourglasses, etc., can help the students in finding out the elapsed time in new ways. It can also help in understanding the factors that might be responsible for influencing the elapsed time. 

Brain: How does it experience time and its aspects?

Humans are growing individuals, and each developmental stage holds a significant play in our behavior, actions, and cognition to function. With that being mentioned, it can be noticed that our mind and body eventually learn to develop their own rhythm and sense of duration for regular tasks. This happens because we do not have a biological system responsible for the innate sense of time. However, we have systems for the sense of smell, sight, taste, and hearing. 

In research[1] done by Albert Tsao, it has been observed that our neural clock, that is, the experience of time perceived by our brain, is dependent on the orderly sequence of the flow of experiences of an individual. 

Intriguingly, it also states that the brain areas responsible for identifying and experiencing “time” are closely related to areas that are responsible for the same when it comes to “space”.

However, we need to have a fair understanding of the beginning and end of a task to be able to estimate the “elapsed time” for a task at any point in time. This was shown through an experiment[2] done by Dr. James Hayes and Daniel Dombeck, where they employed mice to prove the neurobiological perception of elapsed time. 

Neural perception of elapsed time through experiment 

In the experiment done by Dr. James and Daniel, they set up mice with virtual reality screens around them. The mice were supposed to run on a treadmill, and upon making it through a virtual track, they were encountered by an invisible door, where

  • If an individual crossed it somehow, they had to restart the track all over again.
  • But to open the door, the mice had to wait for 6 seconds without moving, and if they moved before 6 seconds, the waiting time would restart as well. 
  • Upon following both the instructions, if the mice were able to cross over, and finish the race, they were rewarded. 

At the end of the experiment, the mice were able to complete the track and were rewarded. However, without the knowledge of time and space, how were mice able to win it?

Well, this is where the biological and neural aspects of time perception come into place, mice only had to figure out the beginning and end of every stage through the hit and trial method and allowed it to figure out the elapsed time. It was revealed through the study of their brain activity that for every obstacle, their timekeeping cells lightened up to identify the elapsed time to make up for it during any task. 


Learning the concept of elapsed time has always been a little tricky, but the right types of aids and tools can make the teaching and learning process a lot more efficient and effective. This article sheds light on the neurobiological basis of time, the areas of the brain that are responsible for time perception, and the understanding of how they can be activated can help in the development of even more activities to help with the same. The strategies given above can help the students in associating these learnings with rather fun and relaxed mental perceptions.


  1. Nilsen, R. E. (2020). How your brain experiences time. Norwegian SciTech News.
  2. How the brain keeps track of time. (2018, November 20). National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Leave a Comment