The Minute Glasses  

How do children understand the concept of time? They know it’s important. They hear us talking about it all the time….

“Ok Sam, we have to take turns on the tricycle. You have 2 more minutes and then it’s Kaleb’s turn” (?)

“We have 5 minutes left before we go onstage everyone” Ms. Maria whispers to the children in the line. (?)

A bell is heard ringing in the corner of the classroom. Everyone quiets down and Mr. Johnson announces, “allright everyone, we have a special presentation coming up in 10 minutes. Please tidy up your work and come and sit down”  (?)

“Hold on, I need a minute!”, Mom says. (?)

As we say these things, we seem to know what we are talking about. We can tell the time. We have access to a watch, or to the time on our phone, or we can read the 12 hour clock tick tocking on the wall. Maybe it’s time we gave children the opportunity to understand what we are saying to them. What we really mean.

This activity is called the Minute Glasses and I think it would be best suited for the children in the Casa dei Bambini. The activity itself is about the measurement of time in minutes (1 through 5) and it gives to the child a key to understanding the passage of time as a quantity that can be measured and therefore scientifically understood. As well, the experience with the passage of 5 minutes in time is a good foundation for understanding the points around the 12 hour clock. Each consecutive number (1 through 12) is reached after the passage of 5 minutes. 5 Minutes taken 12 times, adds up to one hour or 60 minutes. This activity belongs to the group of activities in the Sensorial Area of the classroom. The passage of time can be felt and we acquire a sense of it through experience. One is able to grade the minutes in order, and with a second set one is able to match the minutes similarly. For our example here we have only one set, so we wish to discuss grading only and leave matching as a possibility for later study. 

(The set of minute glasses depicted below were ordered online. We chose to isolate the sand colour by spray painting all of the exteriors the same white tone) 


1 x tray

1 x 1 minute hour glass (red sand)

1 x 2 minute hour glass (orange sand)

1 x 3 minute hour glass (yellow sand)

1 x 4 minute hour glass (pink sand)

1 x 5 minute hour glass (blue sand) 


1. Invite the child to the presentation. 

2. Introduce the activity by name. “This activity is called the Minute Glasses”  

3. Pick up the tray of Minute Glasses, carry it over to the table and sit down. 

4. Remove each of the glasses, one by one, from out of the tray and place them onto the table in a horizontal row. 

5. Set the tray aside. 

6. Pull one of the glasses (any glass) forward on the table.

7. Show the child how to turn one glass over. Say, “this is how we turn the glass over”.  Invert your right hand so that your index and middle fingers are resting on the bottom front side of the glass and your thumb is now resting behind the glass and flip the glass over once. Flip the glass back over.  

7. Invite the child to turn one glass over similarly. 

8. Place the glasses back into the row. 

9. Using two hands pull any two of the glasses forward on the table. 

10. Show the child how to turn over two glasses simultaneously. Say, “this is how we turn two glasses over”. Invert both your left and right hands forward and hold the glasses one in the left hand and one in the right hand at the bases. Flip over both glasses simultaneously. Flip the glasses back over. 

11. Invite the child to do the same. “Now you try turning two glasses”. 

12. Return the two glasses to the row. 

13. Invite the child to participate in turning all of the glasses over at once. 

14. “Now, let’s try to turn all of the glasses over at the same time. You will turn these two glasses over (give the child two glasses to turn) and I will turn these last three over myself” 

15. Invite the child to hold two of the glasses, while you hold two of the glasses. 

16. “When I say go we will turn all of the glasses over together” “Ready?”

17. “GO!”

18. The child will turn two, you will turn two at the same time and then quickly turn over the last one. (The minor second or so delay between the first 4 and the last one is allright because they are each timed a minute apart and we are grading them in order) 

19. Watch quietly and patiently as the sand falls from the top to the bottom. 

20. When the first timer has finished, pull it forward and to the left, creating a new horizontal row along the table, and say, “this is one minute”.

21. When the second timer has finished, pull it forward and place it to the right of the one minute timer and say, “this is 2 minutes”.

22. When the third timer has finished, pull it forward and place it to the right of the two minute timer and say, “this is 3 minutes”.

23. When the fourth timer has finished, pull it forward and place it to the right of the three minute timer and say, “this is 4 minutes”. 

24. When the fifth timer has finished, pull it forward and place it to the right of the four minute timer and say, “this is 5 minutes”. 

25. Point to each timer, beginning on the left and say it’s name out loud. “This is 1 minute, this is 2 minutes, this is 3 minutes, this is 4 minutes, this is 5 minutes.” 

26. Invite the child to have a turn. “Would you like to have a turn, grading the Minute Glasses?” 

Control of Error: 

One could add little stickers to the bottom of the glasses with titles, 1 minute, 2 minutes, 3 minutes, 4 minutes, and 5 minutes.