A Colorful Clock For Toddlers

[Don] and his wife were looking for a way to teach their two-year old daughter how to tell time. She understood the difference between day and night, but she wasn’t old enough to really comprehend telling the actual time. [Don’s] solution was to simplify the problem by breaking time down into colored chunks representing different tasks or activities. For example, if the clock is yellow that might indicate that it’s time to play. If it’s purple, then it’s time to clean up your room.

[Don] started with a small, battery operated $10 clock from a local retailer. The simple clock had a digital readout with some spare room inside the case for extra components. It was also heavy enough to stay put on the counter or on a shelf. Don opened up the clock and got to work with his Dremel to free up some extra space. He then added a ShiftBrite module as a back light. The ShiftBrite is a high-brightness LED module that is controllable via Serial. This allows [Don] to set the back light to any color he wants.

[Don] already had a Raspberry Pi running his DIY baby monitor, so he opted to just hijack the same device to control the ShiftBrite. [Don] started out using a Hive13 GitHub repo to control the LED, but he found that it wasn’t suitable for this project. He ended up forking the project and altering it. His alterations allow him to set specific colors and then exit the program by typing a single command into the command line.

The color of the ShiftBrite is changed according to a schedule defined in the system’s crontab. [Don] installed Minicron, which provides a nice web interface to make it more pleasant to alter the cron job’s on the system. Now [Don] can easily adjust his daughter’s schedule via web page as needed.

 

34 thoughts on “A Colorful Clock For Toddlers

  1. “and his wife were looking for a way to teach their two-year old daughter how to tell time”

    The best way is to wait until she’s older, and the brain has actually developed to the point where it is ready for it.

    1. Development takes time. You can’t make them grow faster by gently pulling on their legs every morning. Be patient, and provide them with stimulus that matches their developmental age.

  2. “and his wife were looking for a way to teach their two-year old daughter how to tell time”

    A. why at such a young age?
    B. why a digital display? Wait until she knows what bloody numbers are and how the decimal system works (first grade or something?) and a digital clock will be trivial to read. Now reading a clock with actual hands would be something that needs teaching.

      1. My thoughts exactly.What these parents are trying to do with teaching some made-up jumble of numbers and colors baffles me.Wait till she’s older and teach an analog clock.

  3. I saw a yardstick from WalMart that had zero in the first inch. Everyone should be able to grow up seeing that instead of the Roman way of numbers shown on every other ruler and clock. If you think this is odd, look at an analogue meter scale. Who still has one anyway, or wants to go back. Dial clocks were good at being able to be read by the illiterate.

    1. That yardstick is broken. The first inch isn’t zero inches, it’s one inch. The counting-from-zero concept only makes sense for counters, etc, because they start out “empty”.

  4. I made something similar a couple of years ago using an arduino, an RGB LCD, and a Bicolor LED matrix. It really isn’t about teaching the kids how to tell time (that will come). It gives them a time reference by using colors (and in my case iconography). We still use the clock. It isn’t 100% effective, but it definitely reduced how often my son came over in the middle of the night.

  5. I don’t know why I bother reading comments on hackaday anymore. This community is so negative. Ten comments… not one relates to the technical merits of the hack itself. Five people only commented to point out how horrible the parents are.

    I think it’s a great project. Basically, it teaches their daughter to not argue about what time it is, as the clock isn’t changing color to be mean; time is simply inflexible. Two years old is definitely old enough to have this concept introduced.

    1. Hey! Someone gets it!

      This was built for the same reason that we teach our children to sign well before they are 1. It gives them the ability to better comprehend concepts that they don’t have the ability to fully grasp. My son signs when he is hungry instead of just crying and us having to figure out why.

      Anyhow, with this being a technical site there’s really no need to get in to all of the reasons that we are using this clock as a tool. Before when we would say that it’s 8:00 she would have no clue what we were talking about. Now we can start explaining that the clock turns red at 8:00 and 8:00 is time for bed.

      1. When I saw this tip come in it reminded me of the baby signing thing as well. I think it’s really cool that people can teach their babies to communicate and understand concepts before we traditionally believe they are capable. It seems like this clock makes their lives easier.

  6. This is really smart. I personally know parents who were instructed by sleep experts to use a time triggered light to train their daughter that it wasn’t time to get up. She was only 19 months and took to it right away. She happily plays in the crib and then calls out when the light comes on.

    So it’s absolutely possible for a kid that age to pick up on it and make themselves and everyone else a lot more sane in the process.

    Nice work. This has a lot of commercial opportunity.

  7. This is really smart. I personally know parents who were instructed by sleep experts to use a time triggered light to train their daughter that it wasn’t time to get up. She was only 19 months and took to it right away. She happily plays in the crib and then calls out when the light comes on.

    So it’s absolutely possible for a kid that age to pick up on it and make themselves and everyone else a lot more sane in the process.

    Nice work. This has a lot of commercial opportunity.

  8. I think this is a great build. To any of you grousing about the horrors of teaching a two-year old about numbers and time, tell me: is reading a book to a toddler also terrible, because they might start learning letters and words?

    Small children want to learn and understand everything. They’re terribly frustrated by ignorance. Helping them – going so far as to build a child a tool that will allow them to better understand their world – is a wonderful thing.

    1. Reading books is great of course. Mostly because they’ll learn tones and rhythms. It’s very unlikely they’ll learn letters and words at 2 years of age, but, hey, if they do happen to pick up something, that’s not a problem.

      Spending time on trying to actually teach them letters and words, and expecting some results, is most likely just a waste of effort, that may lead to frustration on both sides.

  9. I have 2 sons ages 6 and 8, who used to argue all the time about when they should play, clean, etc. One of my ways of solving the problem was to use an analog clock and some stickers. Essentially I created “zones” around the clock that had sun/moon stickers that contained “suitable” activities for that time block. The sun and moon stickers were used to separate day / night activities. Similar outcome, different approach. I see no harm in teaching children to at least loosely abide by a schedule.

    As for the hardware hack itself this is nicely done. I kind of wish I had thought to re-purpose parts like this instead. It would have saved me a lot of time when shifting the schedules around to accommodate my kids starting school.

  10. Developer take note. It shouldn’t be hard to create a pair of iOS and Android apps that do what this little clock does. I’ve got an old iPhone 3gs that’s now serving as a weather display on my desk. Similar phones could be transformed into color-coded activity clocks for little children. It could even beep in a way they tell them “Now is the time to wash up for supper,” or whatever.

  11. Wow look at all of these super parents… “Oh lordy that man is trying to teach his child edumacations burn him!!!” I feel sorry for your children and you if you think teaching children a schedule or introducing time is bad.

    Great build and inspiring. Interesting how children can learn such advanced concepts with just a little push and a little technology.

    1. Yeah, I’m such a terrible parent for educating my child and trying to use fun ways to do so.

      Thanks and I’m really encouraged by the handful of non-trolls on here that really understand. Thanks for checking it out.

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