Learning how to tell the time is an important life skill. How on earth could people get to work on time, or get out of bed on time, meet up with friends, or catch planes or taxis, if they didn’t have this basic ability?
Our lives these days are based round the clock, rather than the sunrise and sunset, as they used to be, which makes timekeeping far more complicated! It is important to start teaching your child timekeeping skills early on, as it is starting to be introduced into the curriculum, so children will have to be able to tell time. Getting started on it sooner than later will give your kids a head start.
It is actually very baffling concept, the idea of time, not least because we measure minutes and hours in bunches of sixty – sixty seconds in a minute, sixty minutes in an hour – then jump to there being twenty four hours in a day. This is nowhere near as easy as the five times table for those little developing brains!
Keep it fun and simple
The most important thing to remember, when teaching anything to kids, is to keep it fun. No one wants to learn something they don’t understand if it is dry and boring, especially not a young child who is already impatient and thinking about the more fun things that they could be doing.
The other important thing is to keep it simple, especially for younger children. They just don’t have the focus or the attention span to grasp very difficult concepts, so leave the complicated stuff for the later years.
With very young children, you can start by simply breaking the day into three sections – morning, afternoon and evening. You can tell them the things that happen in the morning – for example: “We get dressed and have breakfast in the morning.” The afternoon could be “We have lunch, then we go for a walk to the park.” Evening routine can include dinner, bath, stories and bedtime.
Show how long things take to do
The next stage is to show your child how long things take to do, such as “Five minutes for teeth cleaning.” “Ten minutes until we have to leave the house to get to school.” This way they will start to get an idea about how long different timescales feel.
Decide what type of clock to use
When you actually get started on how to teach a child to tell time, you should start with an analogue clock rather than a digital one. You can even buy a kids watch for your child to wear.
Although we are surrounded by digital clocks and it may seem that they would make time telling easier because they simply show the numbers, having the constantly moving second hand on an analogue clock face can really help to show the passage of time.
Identify the hour hand and the minute hand
The first step is to help them identify the hour hand and the minute hand. Explain that the little (hour) hand tells you what the hour is, and the big (minute) hand moves to show how many minutes past the hour the time is.
Getting the hang of the minute hand can be especially tricky, as it moves in sections of five, but the number does not correlate to this. You could tell them that each number has a secret identity, like a spy, so that one’s secret identity is five, three’s is fifteen, and so on.
You can help your child learn how to tell time by keeping a clock out where it’s visible, and pointing out the time that certain things happen. “Oh look, it’s one o’clock – it must be lunchtime!” Or the less popular “Seven o’clock! Time for bed.”
Fun activities and apps
There are plenty of fun activities you can do with your child to help them learn to tell time. Why not make a paper plate clock face, with pipe cleaner hands that can be moved about to different times?
You can also make a quiz for your child by getting them to list with you a few activities that they do in a day, and what times they occur. Call out the activity and its time, and get your child to move the clock hands to the right place. This sort of activity will slowly cement the concept of telling time into their brains.
You can also find any number of helpful and interactive apps to help with how to teach a child to tell time. If you are not an advocate of screen time however, it may be best to stick with the homemade clock!
How to teach a child to tell time can be a long, slow job, but it will be worth it in the end. Though you may not thank me for these tips when they’re climbing all over you in bed on a Sunday morning, happily telling you that it’s seven o’clock and time to get up!