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3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion

3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion

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Sometimes getting children to do chores or complete homework can be a challenging task for the adults in their lives. Timers are an excellent way to motivate your child or student(s) to complete tasks and follow directions.

Research and reputable resources consistently indicate the benefits of using timers with children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Additionally, a study completed at Apple Tree Learning Center, in 2012, in Washington D.C., concluded that using a timer with a picture schedule, with a preschool student with a developmental delay, significantly increased his time on task during center-based play. (Be sure to check the end of the article for types of timers to use with children who may have trouble understanding the countdown on a traditional digital timer).

My own experiences over the past 19 years have also consistently shown me how effective timers can be when working with students who have trouble staying on task, completing non-preferred activities, and transitioning away from preferred activities.

Below I will illustrate three ways for you to effectively use timers with children to increase cooperation, time on-task, task completion, etc.

Side Note: In addition to the strategies in this article, there are other methods that are helpful to encourage chore/homework completion and other positive behaviors. See the bottom of this article for recommendations on other articles to read. Additionally, there is no magic fix. What works for one child may not work for another. If you have significant concerns about your child’s ability, motivation, learning, behavior, or level of attention talk to your child’s doctor and/or school to find out what support they can provide.

Recommendations for Timer Use
1. Some children have difficulty working for prolonged periods of time without a break. They may get frustrated or mentally drained. I have seen children start to look around, talk, and play with items during prolonged periods of homework or classwork. This often leads to an adult telling them to get back to work before they are mentally ready. Sometimes the child becomes resistant and refuses to get back to work. Other times they will make statements such as “I am too tired.” “It is too hard.” “I am bored.” or “I don’t care about this.” If they do get back to work, they may work slowly, rush through the assignment, or not put forth their best effort.

So how can timers help?

1. Tell your child that he/she needs to complete a certain amount of work and allow them to work towards a break.
For example, if your child is given 20 math problems for homework, you can say, “Complete the first ten problems and then take a five minute break to do something of your choice. Then do the next ten problems.” During the break, set the timer for five minutes and make sure the child can see it so they know exactly how much time they have left.

This is a great method for encouraging work completion because children like to work towards something fun. Many children also need a mental break and will work more effectively when they have the opportunity to take one. Using a timer takes the ownership away from the parent or teacher. The adult is not arbitrarily telling the child that the break is over. The timer dictates the length of the break. This leads to less resistance from the child.

If you are doing an open ended activity, such as studying or practicing an academic skill, try setting the timer for 10 minutes and saying something like “we will practice for ten minutes, take a five minute break to do something of your choice, and practice for another 10 minutes.” In this case you would use the timer to let the child know how long the practice/study session will last and how long the break will last. Some children need suggestions for the break (e.g., when you take your break do you want to draw or play a game on the computer). If you are offering suggestions, pick things that you know your child would want to work towards. You can adapt the number of minutes as some children can work for longer periods, some need to work for shorter periods, and some benefit from longer or shorter breaks. Work with your child/student to see how much time works best for him/her.

using timers for homework

A simple list of the plan can be extremely helpful

  • 10 math problems
  • 5 minute break for a preferred activity
  • 10 math problems
  • Finished (pick activity of choice)

Children who struggle with reading/language may need the list to be in visual form. See How to Use Schedules to Improve Children’s Behavior for more on this topic.

2. Some children benefit from timer games.
Some children are very easily distracted during routine tasks like getting dressed, putting toys away, or copying down their spelling words. The child may look around, talk, or play with items rather than getting the task done. If the child is able to do the task competently but gets easily distracted, he/she may benefit from a “timer game.” Try it out to see if it benefits your child/student. For instance, you can tell your child that if she finishes putting away her toys by the time the timer goes off, she can engage in an activity of her choice when she is done. You may want to time the fun activity she chooses if you want her to do something else afterwards (e.g., put your toys away before the timer goes off, play on the computer for 20 minutes, get ready for bed). If “timer games” make your child anxious there are other methods which may be successful or, maybe she can push through some of that anxiety and get it done. You can also keep in mind that if you do not want to turn it into a game you can say something like “you have ten minutes to put your toys away” and then set the timer to help your child monitor how much time he/she has to complete the task.

Side Note: Try to keep distractions to a minimum when asking your child to complete a task.

Related Article: How to Set Up the Classroom for Students with Autism and ADHD

3. Use timers to facilitate transitions from one activity to the next.

Has your child ever resisted when you told him to clean up, get off the computer, or turn off the television? Children often have difficulty breaking away from something enjoyable when they are not prepared that their fun time is coming to an end. Using a timer is a great way to prepare your child for these situations. For example, you can set the timer and say “In five minutes it is time to turn off the computer and start your homework.”

Teachers can also use timers in their classrooms with individual students or the whole class to encourage classwork completion, again using the same strategies described above.

For children who have trouble understanding the concept of time or numbers, a visual timer can be helpful because the child can see how much time is left. Visual timers can be purchased on Amazon or other online stores. Here are some examples below:

Red Clock Visual Timer
using timers for homework
With a red clock visual timer, children can see time running out as the red disappears.

Sand timer
using timers for adhd
Sand timers let children know that time is up when the sand at the top gets to the bottom.

You can even get a free visual timer app on your IPhone, IPAD, or Android device. Just do a search for visual timer in your app store.

A Great New App to try with a Kid Friendly Timer is Kazutime. When the doggie gets to the other side of the lake, the time is up. It can be used to beat the time, to keep track of time, or to know how long something will last. See a screen shot below!

using timers for homework

Related Articles:

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More Visual Timers

Written by Rachel Wise

Rachel Wise

Rachel Wise is the founder and CEO of educationandbehavior.com. She is also a nationally certified school psychologist and licensed behavior specialist with a master’s degree in education. Rachel has 20 years of experience working with individuals with academic and behavioral needs.




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24 Responses to 3 Ways to Use Timers to Encourage Homework and Chore Completion

  1. […] plan (e.g., after you complete ten problems you will have a three minute break). See my article Getting Kids Motivated With Timers for more information about using timers to motivate children to complete work and other […]

  2. […] timers are an excellent way to help them transition from one activity to another. See my article Getting Kids Motivated With Timers for more on this […]

  3. […] a definitive ending, such as browsing the internet, using a timer can be helpful. See my article Getting Kids Motivated With Timers for how to use timers with children who have trouble understanding the concept of […]

  4. […] the ones I have given in my articles entitled Compliance, Getting Your Children to Listen to You, Getting Kids Motivated With Timers, How to Say “No” Without Saying “No”, Positive Behavior Support for Children on the […]

  5. […] periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going. I also recommend reading Getting Kids Motivated With Timers and Compliance for suggestions on how to encourage homework completion, especially when homework is […]

  6. […] timers are an excellent way to help them transition from one activity to another. See my article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for more on this […]

  7. […] plan (e.g., after you complete ten problems you will have a three minute break). See my article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for more information about using timers to motivate children to complete work and other […]

  8. […] periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going. We also recommend reading How to Use Timers to Motivate Children and A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children for suggestions on how to encourage homework […]

  9. […] to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read my articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Praise […]

  10. […] your child for changes (read more about this in my articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, and Strategies for Children on the Autism Spectrum and Children With Challenging […]

  11. […] a definitive ending, such as browsing the internet, using a timer can be helpful. See my article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for using timers with children who have trouble understanding the concept of […]

  12. Suzanne Hoffman says:

    Good articles. Not much information available in Zimbabwe for teachers

  13. Wise Education and Behavior says:

    Thanks you for your feedback, Suzanne!

  14. […] to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Praise […]

  15. […] periods without frustration), unless the child is eager to keep going. We also recommend reading How to Use Timers to Motivate Children and A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children for suggestions on how to encourage homework […]

  16. […] timers is an excellent way to help them transition from one activity to another. See my article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for more on this […]

  17. […] we will turn off the computers and start a writing assignment for science). See our article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for using timers to facilitate transitions and using visual timers with children who have trouble […]

  18. […] plan (e.g., after you write down three facts, you will have a two minute break). See our article How to Use Timers to Motivate Children for more information. Graphic organizers can be another great way to help students with ADHD pay […]

  19. […] to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Praise […]

  20. […] to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Praise […]

  21. […] How to Use Timer to Motivated Children […]

  22. […] to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read our articles How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Use Praise with Children to Achieve […]

  23. […] For children who may have trouble moving on from a fun activity, let them know how long they can engage in the activity and give them reminders when the time is almost up (e.g., “You can watch TV for 30 minutes.” “In five minutes, you have to turn off the TV and get in your pajamas.“). Some children benefit from having a timer set, to let them know how much time they have to do the fun activity. For more on this concept, see our article, How to Use Timers to Motivate Children. […]

  24. […] on ways to encourage children to complete tasks or assignments they do not want to do, read How to Use Timers to Motivate Children, A Tip for Encouraging Compliance in Children, and How to Use Praise with Children to Achieve […]

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