Teaching your child to tell the time can be tricky, especially if you don’t know where to start. It can take children several months of learning until they really get to grips with reading clocks.
Most children are able to tell the time (and fully understand the concept) by the age of 7 or 8. The key to teaching a child how to tell the time is to take it in stages. This is our step-by-step guide to introducing time to children.
Help Them Understand the Concept of Time
Before a child can tell the time and understand what it means, they first need to be aware of the concept. One way of introducing the idea is to relate it to events during the day. For example, ‘morning’ means breakfast time, ‘afternoon’ means lunch time, and ‘night’ means bed time. Likewise, try to encourage their understanding of phrases like ‘later’, ‘tonight’, and ‘tomorrow’.
To reinforce your child’s understanding of the times of day, you can ask them questions like ‘what happens in the morning?’, and ‘at what time of day do we go the park?’. You may even want to draw up a visual schedule that shows what happens at certain times throughout the day.
Teach Them to Count to Sixty
In order to tell the time, children need to be able to count to sixty. Practice counting out loud with your child, so they get used to the pattern of numbers. You can also have them write down the numbers 1 to 60 on paper, so they have a visual representation.
Test your child by asking questions like ‘what comes after the number 34?’. You can then introduce basic subtraction and addition questions like ‘what’s 40 minus 5?’ You can also introduce counting songs like ‘60 green bottles’ (if you have the patience).
Practice the Five Times Table
Being able to count in fives will help your child grasp the minutes element of telling the time. Encourage them to count to sixty in increments of five and once they get good at it, ask them to count back down from sixty to zero.
Once they’re able to count up and down in fives, introduce some addition and subtraction questions that will encourage them to think forward and backward in time.
Once they’re comfortable with addition and subtraction, you can ask them times tables questions like ‘what’s 5 times 8?’. Having a good grasp of multiplication, particularly the fives times table, will help your child read clocks quicker.
Explain the Hands of an Analogue Clock
Primary schools tend to teach the time using analogue clocks, so it makes sense to start teaching your child in the same way at home. In order for your child to understand the function of each hand, they need to be familiar with the concepts of ‘hour’, ‘minute’, and ‘second’.
Once they understand that an hour is a longer period of time than a minute, and a minute longer than a second, you can test their ability to work with hours and minutes consecutively. For example, you could ask ‘which period of time is longer – 1 hour and 45 minutes, or 1 hour and 15 minutes?’. Once they have a good grasp of how hours, minutes, and seconds relate, you can explain what each of the hands on a clock represents.
For a good example of how to explain clock hands to a child, take a look at this short video from Kids Learning Videos:
Practice Telling the Time Through Activities
One of the most effective (and fun) ways to teach a child to tell the time is by making an analogue clock using a paper plate and cardboard cut-out hands. Have your child write the numbers on the clock and then practice setting the time.
Start off with times on the hour, i.e. 2 o’clock, and then progress to 15-minute intervals, i.e. a quarter past the hour, half past etc. Once your child is familiar with 15-minute intervals, introduce times in between like 23 minutes past 2, and so on.
Play ‘set the time’ games by asking your child to set the time to a particular time of day. You can then ask them to set the time forward or back to encourage them to count in minutes and hours.
Introduce Digital Clocks
Once your child has mastered telling the time on an analogue clock, encourage them to do the same on digital clocks. Nowadays, children are probably more likely to come across digital clocks in everyday life.
Although it will take some adjustment to tell the time digitally, once your child understands the basics of an analogue clock, it shouldn’t take them long to get to grips with their digital counterparts.
You can use the same ‘set the time’ games with digital clocks, gradually progressing on to more challenging time periods.
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