Some of the best gifts I enjoyed during my Grade One year were mechanical toys. One toy that I stared at and wondered over a lot was my Fisher-Price wind-up musical clock. I’d wind up the knob on the back as far as it would go, and hold it in place until I’d turned it around front ways, so I could see the front at the exact moment that the music and loud tick-tock started to play. I think this had been a gift from my parents or my grandparents.
So, kids, this was 1970 or ’71, when electronic toys didn’t yet exist. My wind-up toy didn’t keep time like a real clock, but was based on the same five hundred year-old mechanical mainspring technology that had kept generations of jewelers and engineers employed, and trains running on time. (Of course, centuries ago, before timezones, each town could have its own local schedule that may not match the next town.)
Laying on my bed in my grandfather’s house in Victoria, I was in my own little world, playing with my clock and imagining that I was one of the little cartoon children running to school in the illustrations painted on its case. That toy helped me get familiar with reading time for myself, and reminded me of the important events of the day, like breakfast time, school time, dinner time, and bath time. It was also musical and kept a strong tick-tock beat, just like my Mother’s Metronome. So, it connected the idea of time to the sound of ticking seconds, and the shape and position of the clock’s hands, and the association of the events of the day.
Today, almost fifty years later, every appliance you own has a digital clock in it, and even the tiniest electronic device is ticking off the milliseconds or talking to an online synchronization service. The whole planet seems to be ticking with the same beat.
I’ve learned recently that some Primary curriculum don’t include time-telling anymore. Self-regulation has changed in the digital age, in the same way that I guess fewer folks teach their kids to measure their day by the position of the sun.