The Two-Minute Olympics

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

The Two-Minute Olympics

September 19, 2013

If you hang around the under 5 crowd, you know they don’t have a great grasp of time. Whether it’s rising at 5:30 AM ready to roll for the day or whining in the car, “Are we there yet?” it’s clear their understanding of time is lacking. In my house, I’m probably partly to blame. When I tell my boys I need “just a minute” to finish a task, it might take me anywhere from sixty seconds to five (okay maybe 10) minutes to do so. A sand timer, or hourglass, provides a fun way to literally watch the minutes go by and help little ones build an understanding of time.

Find or buy or find a low-tech sand timer. They’re included in a variety of board games as well as with some tooth brushing kits.

First off, make sure all the sand is on one side of the timer. Then flip it over and watch the sand filter through to the bottom. Ask your kids to guess how long the process took. You’ll probably get interesting responses (see above note on kids being clueless about time).

Repeat the process, but this time have your kids count off the seconds out loud as the sand flows from top to bottom. Now how long did it seem to take?

Finally repeat this a third time while measuring against a stopwatch or clock with a second hand.

Of course, that final measurement will be the most accurate. Now that you know how long it takes your timer to run its course, likely two to three minutes if it’s from one of the sources mentioned above. For convenience sake, let’s assume you have a two-minute timer.

Now the moment has come to build a better sense of time!

We know we’re supposed to spend two minutes brushing our teeth each morning. Set up the sand timer and have your kids start to brush. Flip the sand time over and have them clean their teeth for the full run of the sand. Did they say that felt like it last forever? Now let them play a favorite video game or app, but just until the timer runs out. Ask them how that felt compared to brushing teeth.

Brainstorm a series of times other tasks with your kids to take on for two minutes and use those to hold (drum roll, please)

The Two-minute Olympics 

Since we’re all about math, you’re going to want to record your results (and there’s going to be a lot of counting involved). Besides, how else would you know who earns the gold medal?

Sample Olympic events:

  • How far can your child walk (or run) in two minutes?
  • How many jumps?
  • How many arm circles?
  • How many toys can be cleaned up? (For competitive kids, cleaning up becomes less of a chore when they’re racing against the clock.)

You can also riff on “Minute to Win It” challenges with events like hula hooping, standing on one foot, or keeping an inflated balloon in the air until the timer runs out.

The closing ceremony for the Two-Minute Olympics should include every parent’s favorite challenge: have the children remain silent for two. whole. minutes.

What challenges can you add to the list?

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About the Author

Kim Moldofsky

Kim Moldofsky is a mom of teen boys in the Chicago area. She blogs at and hosts a the popular monthly #STEMchat on Twitter where parents and educators share ideas and resources to raise STEM-loving kids.

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