Teaching Your Child to Tell the Time October 06 2011

When I learned to tell the time the world only had analogue clocks and watches, the digital format was rarely seen. Nowadays the digital clock is the most common one seen on the street but the traditional analogue clock is still seen in most towns and cities. Wrist watches are still more popular with traditional analogue clocks - the craze for digital watches fortunately passed quickly during the 1980’s.

Although a child will no doubt always have access to a digital clock on a computer or mobile phone it is important for them to learn to tell the time on an analogue clock or watch. So how do you teach them? What is the best way to explain the how the hour and minute hands mark the passing of time and how that is calibrated and related to the passing of day and night? How to explain AM and PM, quarter-to or half-past, noon and midnight? The language of analogue time seems antiquated when compared to the impersonal and precise language of the digital clock.

If you ask the time and get a reply “twelve forty-three” you can guarantee that they are reading from a digital source, if the response is “a quarter to one” it is more likely to be analogue. There is not really any need to be able to determine the time down to the minute or even second (unless you are catching a train).

In some ways an analogue clock is easier to understand for a child. As the hands go around this marks the passing of day and night. There are visual references on the clock for comparison - a child may know that they have dinner at 6pm and go to bed at 8pm so if it is 5pm they know that they are approaching this time by looking at the clock. This is not possible with a digital clock as young children need a visual stimulus to predict what will happen next.

Steps to Learning to Tell the Time

To teach the time you really need to take a clock off a wall or have a toy clock so that you and your child can move the hands. It is important to use a clock that is fully calibrated and numbered, do not use an artistic clock with no number or calibrations as this will make it unnecessarily hard for a child to understand.

Start by explaining that the short hand of the clock shows what hour it is. Move the hand to important times of the day and say what time it is, what happens and show the number and what it means. Do this in a logical order, for example start with the clock at 7am and explain that this is the time that we wake up. Then move it to 9am and say that this is the time that school starts.

Demonstrate different times of the day

You can at this point ask where they think the big hand will be when they eat breakfast. If they move it to a space between the 7 and the 9 then you know that they already have a good grasp of the concept of the clock and time. Do not worry if they do not. Go through the rest of the day with the process up until bedtime.

Then you can explain about the minute hand and how it marks the minutes which is how the hours are divided. Explain how one full turn of the minute hand passes 1 hour and show how the hour hand moves on by 1 each time the minute hand goes all the way around the clock. You can now explain what is “half past” and “quarter to” an explain how a quarter is 15 minutes.

5 Minutes at a Time

Next go around the clock showing each passing of 5 minutes with the minute hand. You do not need to teach anything lower than 5 minutes to start with, breaking the time down to the minute can cause more confusion. As you reach each quarter say the time. Encourage your child to repeat the time as you go.

As part of the learning process it is important to ask your child to not only try to tell the current time but also the move the hands to a specific time. For example, show them 9.15pm and ask them to move the hands to 9.30pm. When testing them like this chose times where the hour and minute hands do not clash.

Practice Daily

It may take a while for your child to learn how to tell the time but if you practice every day at every opportunity then they will learn. For example, the mornings at breakfast is a good time to ask them what the time is as you can discuss it and also remind them that school is starting soon.

There are several books on the market that help a child to learn the time by telling a story with books such as Tell the Time With Thomas and I Can Tell the Time (Now I Am Big).

Once they master this you can then start to introduce the concept of the digital clock. The best way to do this is to have both types of clock at hand and explain how the digital clock just shows the numbers and not the hands and then show various times on both. With daily practice a child can learn to tell the time on an both analogue and digital clocks.

April works as part of the customer service team at Find Watches helping customers to chose and fit watches to match their personality and style.