Calendars and Clocks for Kids and Homeschooling

How many years to the next Millennium?

Good Stuff – Rebecca Rupp

When is the Millenium Anyway?:

The Millennium, most scientists agree, is not upon us yet on the first day; January 1, 2000, sounds like the millennium and feels like the millennium, we still have a year to wait for the landmark day, which will fall upon January 1, 2001.

Still, the beginning of the year, millennial or no, is a wonderful time to tackle the intricacies of calendars, clocks, and the surprisingly complex process of marking time.

Time-telling manipulative for just-beginners are available from practically any educational supply store. One excellent source is Cuisenaire/Dale Seymour Publications, whose K-6 catalog offers student clocks with moveable hands, clock stamps (for printing your very own blank or numbered clock faces), and time-telling dominoes. The catalog also carries Patricia Smith’s One Hand at a Time (Dale Seymour, 1997) is a creative hands-on approach to learning how to tell time for kids in the early elementary grades: not only do young students learn to decipher the mysteries of the clock face (one hand at a time, hence the title); they also make sundials, water clocks, bean clocks, and their own personal wristwatches.

For a free catalog, contact Cuisenaire/Dale Seymour, P.O. Box 5026, White Plains, NY 10602-5026; (800) 237-3142; or

Gillian Chapman’s Exploring Time (Millbrook Press, 1995) is a hands-on approach to time for kids aged 7-11. The book, in 14 short sections, runs from the concrete and close-to-home (time-related features of daily life) to the increasingly abstract (the impressive spread of geological time). Brief clear explanations are paired with projects: kids make timelines, pocket-sized sundials, sand timers, and time capsules. For upper elementary- and middle-school-aged kids, an excellent introduction to the study of time is Marilyn Burns’s This Book Is About Time (Little, Brown, 1978).

This is a multifaceted and multidisciplinary overview of time from many different standpoints, variously covering the history of timekeeping (starting with the Egyptian shadow clock), the evolution of watches, time measurements (just how long is a second?), the story of the calendar, biological clocks, jet lag, and the way time is experienced over human lifetimes. It’s filled with eye-catching cartoons, diagrams, fascinating facts, and creative projects: readers can make a water clock and a sundial, experiment with pendulums, chart their biological rhythms, or even – when the season is right – plant a “flower clock,” a garden in which the various flowers open and close at different times of day. The book is ostensibly targeted at kids aged 9-12, but there’s something here for everybody. A great source for designers of unit studies. Franklyn Branley’s Keeping Time: From the Beginning into the 21st Century (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), illustrated with lots of cartoonish little black-line drawings, pairs a scientifically detailed history of timekeeping with a range of hands-on projects: kids, for example, make a sundial and a candle clock.

The “Ancient Rome” Scientific Explorer Kit is a nice resource for students of historical time: this hands-on “History of Science” kit includes materials for assembling and calibrating an elegant terracotta water clock and for designing an early-Roman-style lunar calendar. The kit includes a booklet of background information, plus suggestions for further experiments.

Available from Scientific Explorer, Inc., 2802 E. Madison, Suite 114, Seattle, WA 98112; (800) 900-1182;

Kids can explore the mysteries of the more advanced pendulum clock with the “Pendulums” modules from TOPS Learning Systems, available in either an open-ended “Task Card” format for kids in grades 8-12 or in a more directed “Activity Page” format for kids in grades 4-9. In both, kids use washers, paperclips, pennies, cereal boxes, and string to investigate the mathematical complexities of oscillations. Included are very detailed instructions and a lot of information, all for very little money.

Available from TOPS Learning Systems, 10970 S. Mulino Rd., Canby, OR 97013; (888) 773-9755;

More challenging, for the truly motivated clockmaker, is James Smith Rudolph’s Make Your Own Working Paper Clock (HarperCollins, 1983): 160 pieces to cut (with Exacto knives) and assemble (painstakingly) into a functional timepiece. (Ours, I regret to report, never ticked; we mutilated something crucial in the middle.) Available from bookstores; recommended only for experienced and advanced model-builders.

David Newton’s highly useful Making and Using Scientific Equipment (Franklin Watts, 1993) includes instructions for making a water clock (an elegant and accurate model using rubber stoppers and glass tubing), a sand clock, and a mathematically calibrated sundial. (The sundial gnomon is cut from tin: younger students will need lots of parental help.) Carol Vorderman’s How Math Works (Reader’s Digest, 1996), a superb collection of hands-on math projects and investigations for kids aged 8-14, includes several time-measuring activities, among them making a candle clock, a pendulum, and a device for testing reaction time.

For upper-elementary and middle-grade readers, The Story of Clocks and Calendars: Marking a Millennium by Betsy and Giulio Maestro (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard, 1999) is a beautifully illustrated history of timekeeping, from the prehistoric calendar stick to the modern atomic clock, which much in between – including accounts of Hebrew calendars, Muslim calendars, and Chinese calendars, and an explanation of how the days of the week got their names.

Preschoolers and early-elementary-aged students, however, might prefer a picture-book approach to the calendar. Kathleen Hague’s Calendar Bears (Henry Holt, 1997) is a rhyming tour of the twelve months of the year with bright-colored illustrations of bears, each involved in some month-appropriate activity: building a snowman, splashing in puddles under an umbrella, watching fireworks, making Valentines. Maurice Sendak’s Chicken Soup With Rice: A Book of Months (HarperTrophy, 1991), in zanily charming rhyming refrain, shows that every month of the year is just right for chicken soup with rice (“Sip it once/Sip it twice”); poet Jack Prelutsky in Dog Days: Rhymes Around the Year (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999) shows that each month in turn holds something wonderful for a cheerful and adventurous dog. (“How sweet to be a dog in May/And garden every single day/I dig up dirt, I dig up stones/And plant a row of lovely bones.”) Carol Diggory Shields has written a pair of books for preschool-aged calendar-watchers: Day by Day a Week Goes Round (Dutton, 1998) and Month by Month a Year Goes Round (Dutton, 1998). In each, humorous illustrations and short poems take readers through the days of the week and the months of the year.

Cuisenaire/Dale Seymour (see above) sells a “Calendar Kit” for beginners: it’s a fabric wall hanging (yellow) covered with little clear plastic pockets; users assemble monthly calendars by inserting little cards printed with the name of the month (in English and Spanish), the days of the week, and the numbered days of the month. The kit comes with a pack of math-enhancing activity cards and a collection of weather markers. Our favorite calendar resource in our children’s preschool and elementary years, however, was cheaper: we favored the fill-in-the-blank calendar found in Family Math (Jean Kerr Stenmark, Virginia Thompson, and Ruth Cossey; Lawrence Hall of Science, 1986). Family Math is a creative collection of games, activities, and do-it-yourself manipulative’s for teaching math to kids of all ages; it includes not only reproducible calendars, but reproducible graph paper in several different grid sizes, tangram patterns, place value boards, and number charts. (For more information, contact EQUALS Publications, Lawrence Hall of Science #5200, Berkeley, CA 94720-5200; (800) 897-5036;; also see review, HEM, May/June 1999.) Each month for years our boys labeled and filled in a copy of that blank calendar chart, taped it to an elaborate seasonal illustration, and hung it on the refrigerator. I still have stacks of these, carefully saved. On top there’s a “January” by Joshua: the illustration, on black construction paper, is an explosive mass of silver glitter. It looks like millennial fireworks, but it’s supposed to be winter stars.

Calendars and Clocks On-line:

A printable monthly calendar, with or without moon phases.
Calendar Homepage

A site for all things pertaining to calendars, including a Calendar Calculator (“How many more days until…?”); the “10,000 Year Calendar” which allows users to view an annual calendar from any year in history; links to multicultural calendars (including Chinese, Mayan, Persian, Hebrew, and lunar), literary calendars, historical calendars, astronomical calendars, and interactive make-your-own calendars.
Clocks and Time

A multifaceted site on timetelling. Includes information on timetelling history, clock museums, time standards, educational sites on clocks and time, clockmaking, sundials, and much else.
How Stuff Works

Explainations, animations, and colorful diagrams detail how practically everything works, including the pendulum clock, the alarm clock, and the digital clock.
U.S. Navy Observatory

Master Clock Time

The absolutely exact present time.
A Walk Through Time

The history of time measurement from the folks at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. The site covers ancient calendars, early clocks, mechanical clocks, atomic clocks, time calibration, and more.

Old Testament Days

An information-and-activity guide for kids aged 5-12 by Nancy I. Sanders (Chicago Review Press, 1999). The book covers a 1600-year span of early Hebrew history, from about 2000 to 430 B.C. It begins with a timeline (“All dates,” the author cautions, “are approximate”), followed by a do-it-yourself demonstration of archaeological techniques (your kids will need a clay flowerpot; don’t expect to get it back). The book then moves chronologically through Old Testament history, pairing simple re tellings of Bible stories with a creative collection of multidisciplinary projects. Kids build a model ziggurat, cook lentil stew, mold (and light) an oil lamp, piece together a puzzle map of the Promised Land, and make an Egyptian serpent-headed throwing stick (from a wooden spoon), a lyre (from a wire coat hanger and rubber bands), and a wardrobe of Biblical costumes (including an armor-plated vest for battling the Canaanites). If you’re a truly dedicated parent, you might even tackle the “Baking Bricks” project, for which you’ll need a swimming pool full of mud, some straw, and a lot of milk cartons.

Nicely done, as are all the Chicago Review Press activity books, but the projects tend toward the younger end of the recommended age range.

$14.95; from bookstores.

Proverbial Wisdom

Fans of E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Curriculum ( are familiar with his educational emphasis on proverbs, idioms, and sayings. A list of such familiar snippets is included as part of the Core Knowledge language arts programs, from kindergarten through eighth grade. Kindergarteners, for example, learn “A dog is man’s best friend” and “The early bird gets the worm;” third-graders, “Beggars can’t be choosers” and “When in Rome do as the Romans do;” sixth-graders, “All’s well that ends well,” “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and “Procrastination is the thief of time.” Such sayings, explains Hirsch, are an integral part of American literary culture and should be included in educational curricula as part of our shared social heritage.

For those who share his view – or who simply enjoy fooling around with word puzzles and words – Jordan Pine’s creative game “Proverbial Wisdom” may be for you. This is an attractive board game (patterned in purple and green) in which players hop around a colorful playing path solving proverb puzzles in one of three categories: either by sketching the proverb for teammates to guess, answering a question about the meaning of the proverb, or guessing the proverb represented on a “Picture Card.” Players may be asked, for example, to guess what proverb is represented by a picture of a house with a heart in place of the front door (“Home is where the heart is”); to sketch such phrases as “Cat got your tongue” and “”Money doesn’t grow on trees;” or to determine the real meaning of “Curiosity killed the cat.” Your choices: (A) Getting too nosy may lead to trouble; (B) Education cannot replace common sense; or (C) No sense worrying about future events. There are 170 cards in each of the three categories, which gives plenty of material for many many games.

The “Proverbial Wisdom” web site includes a list of teacher’s resources with which to expand upon the material found in the game: kids can write short stories based on proverbs; identify antonymic proverbs (“Too many cooks spoil the broth” vs. “The more the merrier”); evaluate science-based proverbs ( Do still waters really run deep?); and associate proverbs with historical figures.

Recommended for 4 to 16 players, ages 10 and up.

$34.95 (+ $6.95 shipping/handling); (877) GO-ASK-PW;

Science At Home

A quarterly magazine of wonderful science projects, experiments, and information for kids aged 7-12. Each issue includes color-illustrated feature articles in the fields of life science, earth science, health, astronomy, physics, and computer technology, plus science book reviews, an annotated web guide of science sites, field trip suggestions, and many article-related projects and experiments. Experiments are accompanied by illustrated instructions, materials lists (of easy-to-find supplies), and an assortment of challenging follow-up questions.

Sample article titles in past issues include “Ocean Motion,” “Ladybug, Ladybug,” “Spooky Spiders,” and “Why Leaves Change Color” – as well as reader-friendly information about the physics of popsicles and the mechanics of bicycles, an explanation of a special use for the Big Dipper, and a full-page diagram of a mosquito.

An annual subscription costs $10.95; order from Science At Home, 100 Beekman St., Suite 14B, New York, NY 10273-0651;

Mathematics for Everyday Life

This multi-volume mathematics program for secondary students covers all the stuff we should have learned in high school but didn’t, and therefore had to pick up by trial (and occasional awful error) while stumbling about in the real world on our own. Titles in the series include The Mathematics of Buying, The Mathematics of Saving, The Mathematics of Borrowing, The Mathematics of Budgeting, The Mathematics of Investment, The Mathematics of Taxes; The Mathematics of Inflation and Depreciation, The Mathematics of Statistics, and The Mathematics of Insurance. Each worktext is about 100 to 150 pages long, divided into five to six major sections, with straightforward explanations, helpful examples, and practice problems. Taxes, for example, covers sales tax, property tax, income tax, payroll deductions, and – in “Spotlight on the Accountant” – explains what accountants do and gives kids a mathematical chance to practice being one. Investment covers common stocks, corporate bonds, and mutual funds; Borrowing covers promissory notes, installment loans, car loans, home mortgages, and credit cards.

The books can be purchased separately, as suits the needs, interests, or immediate worries of your personal educational program. Accompanying each, for those whose ability to calculate annual inflation rates is not all that it should be, is an optional “Solutions Guide” with answers to all problems.

Flexible, readily understandable, and undeniably practical.

Worktexts, $19.95 each; solutions guides, $3.50 each. Order from Meridian Creative Group, 5178 Station Rd., Erie, PA 16510; (800) 695-9427;

Quick Pix

“Quick Pix” are a trio of clever, quick, and rewarding educational card games from Aristoplay. Available in “Geography,” “Math,” and “Animal” versions, all are essentially matching games: kids pair “question” cards to appropriate “answer” cards. The “Geography Quick Pix,” for example, consists of 36 region cards, covering 12 different world regions (North, Central, and South America; Eastern and Western Europe; Scandanavia; Northern and Southern Africa; the Middle East; Central and Southeast Asia; and Oceania), and 74 individual country cards. Players begin the game by drawing five region cards; then continue the play by drawing cards from the country card pack and attempting to match them to the proper geographical region. If you’ve got a region card for “Scandanavia,” for example, and you draw the country card “Sweden,” you’ve got a match. Country cards include a colored picture of the national flag and a list of general information: capital city, population, monetary unit, and major language(s).

In “Math Quick Pix,” players attempt to match addition and subtraction problems to their proper answers; in “Animal Quick Pix,” kids pair individual animal pictures to their proper group (marsupials, arachnids, birds, crustaceans, amphibians, whales/dolphins, hoofed mammals, dinosaures, rodents, or primates).

Fast and fun for 2 to 4 players aged 7 and up.

$10 apiece from Aristoplay, 450 S. Wagner Rd., Ann Arbor, MI 48103; (800) 634-7738;

Wild Days: Creating Discovery Journals

Nineteenth-century educator Charlotte Mason urged that children – as soon as they are able – keep nature journals. Just how to do this is outlined by homeschooler Karen Skidmore Rackliffe in this little book, heavily illustrated with delightful drawings and entries from her own nature journal and those of her seven children. “So what is a discovery journal?” Karen writes. “A sketch book? A diary? A nature notebook? An account book? Lab notes? Musings? A field journal? Rantings? A record book? Letters unsent? A discovery journal can be all of these. It is a book you write yourself about anything that has importance to you. You make all the rules and you can change them any way you want.”

Rackliffe briefly describes the history of nature-journal-keeping, from Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks through Edith Holden’s Diary of an Edwardian Lady; reviews the developmental stages shown in children’s journals, from scribbling through the introspective “crisis of adolescence;” and suggests a creative range of uses and projects for your own home-grown nature journals. Journals can be used for expanding art abilities, for honing writing skills, for recording science studies and analyzing observations, for detailing visits to historical sites and family trips. Try drawing – in detail – one square yard of ground, Karen suggests – or chart the weather, diagram the parts of a flower, make a cut-away picture of the neighborhood pond, or create your own neighborhood field guide. List all the animals, plants, or birds you see on a family nature walk. Write descriptive passages about places you’ve seen. Compose poems.

And gradually, as your journal grows, it may truly become a book of discovery, of self, of others, of the entire world. Karen quotes naturalist John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Wild Days costs $9.95; order from Karen Rackliffe; (801) 269-1997; e-mail:

The Latest from Greathall

Jim Weiss has (what else?) triumphed again with his two newest recordings, both forays into history. “Galileo and the Stargazers” features the stories of famous scientists, each told with all the fascination, drama, depth, and gentle humor that science tales have long deserved but seldom received. Kids can listen to the story of Archimedes and the golden crown (which includes a beautifully clear explanation of just what Archimedes discovered while lowering himself into his bathtub); the story of Copernicus and his astounding insistence that the Earth circles around the Sun; and the tales of astronomers Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler; of Galileo, his famous telescope, and his even more famous trial; and of the phenomenal Isaac Newton and the theory of gravity.

“Egyptian Treasures: Mummies and Myths” is equally enthralling: an addictive combination of history, legend, and sheer archaeological adventure. The recording includes accounts of pharoahs, queens, and pyramid builders; re-tellings of the ancient myths about the great god Osiris, his jealous brother Set, and his lovely and loyal wife, Isis; and the gripping tale of “The Mummy’s Tomb,” based on the absolutely true story of archaeologist Emil Brugsch-Bey.

The tapes are generally recommended for kids aged 4-12, but when Jim Weiss begins to speak in that wonderful once-upon-a-time sort of voice (“Long long ago, or so the stories say…”), everybody curls up and listens. These are informative, enthralling, and terrific.

Each, $9.95 on audio cassette or $14.95 on CD, plus $2.50 shipping/handling, from Greathall Productions, Inc., P.O. Box 5061, Charlottesville, VA 22905; (800) 477-6234;

© 2000, Becky Rupp

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