How To Teach Children To Tell Time

Does your child face some trouble with reading the time? Are you wondering how to teach this essential skill to him? Fear not, just read on and follow these simple steps.

By Ashwin Lobo  • 9 min read

How To Teach Children To Tell Time

As adults, we read clocks almost instinctively. We merely have to look at the clock and seconds later, we know what time it is. We do this with such ease that we often forget it was a challenge in our younger years. Teaching our children to read the time can be tricky business. And in this age of digital time-pieces and mobile devices, it can be harder still to convince them of the need to be able to read a traditional clock.

Here are are some tips that will help you teach your toddler this invaluable skill:

Help your child understand the basic concept of time: Instead of directly delving into numbers, start by familiarising your child with the underlying concepts of time. You can do this by telling your child how long certain activities generally take. For example, while he’s watching his favourite cartoon, tell him how long each episode generally takes. When he’s going to play-school, tell him how many hours he’ll be back home in. If you’re going out, let him know how much time you’ll be back in. By doing this regularly, your child will gain some understanding of the concept of time. And when you connect it to activities he is involved in he will realise the importance of being able to tell it himself.

Avoid digital clocks: The easy way out would be to simply teach your children how to read the time on a digital clock. Your child just needs a basic understanding of numbers to do this. And since digital clocks are ubiquitous today, many parents may be tempted to do this. However, it is important to teach your child how to read an analogue clock, in order to improve his understanding of time. This is because analogue clocks have hands which are constantly moving, so knowing how to read one will improve your child’s understanding of how time passes. If your child already has a digital time-piece in her room, it might be a good idea to replace it with an analogue clock. This will force her to begin learning how to read one.

Learn numbers from one to sixty: Knowing how to count from one to sixty in the correct order is essential to reading the time. Double digit numbers can be especially challenging for younger children, so make sure your child is thorough with them before you start teaching him how to read a clock. Writing the numbers down also helps to ingrain them deeper in the mind. Give your child constant practice by pointing out double digits wherever you see them like in the supermarket or on TV. Ask him to tell you what the number is. You can also buy him counting books or play counting songs online in order to make the activity more appealing to him.

Make a paper clock: A great hands-on way to help your child learn to tell time is to make a paper clock with her. All you need is a paper plate and some clay. Fold the plate in half. And then fold it in half yet again so that it looks somewhat like a pizza slice. Now unfold and flatten it. You will notice that there will be cross-like creases along the lines of the folds. Using a normal clock as reference, ask your child to write the numbers 12,9,6 and 3 with on the paper plate with a marker. Similarly, fill in the other numbers as well. Now go about making the clock hands. Ask your child to make a short hand and a slightly longer hand using clay. Once she’s done making them ask her to stick them on the paper plate. Explain to your child that the longer hand is meant for minutes while the shorter one is meant for hours. Now hold up the hand-made clock next to the normal clock and show your child how similar they look. This simple exercise is a great way to teach your child because it’s fun as well.

Use multiplication: Knowing some basic multiplication is of great help in reading the time so it’s probably best to teach your child this only after he starts learning multiplication in school. Explain to your child that in relation to the hour hand each number on the face of the clock is equal to one hour. However, in relation to the minute hand, each number on the clock’s face is equal to five minutes. Therefore, if the minute hand is at the number one, tell your child to multiply this number with five. Thus, if the minute hand is at one, it means five minutes have elapsed. If it’s at two then ten minutes have elapsed and so on and so forth. Knowing the 5 times tables and understanding this concept of 5s is integral to reading the time, so take some time with your child to help him learn it.

Demonstrate how to use the hour and minute hand together: Once your child has understood how to read the hour and minute hands individually, teach him how to read them together. Tell him that, when reading the time, the hour hand is always considered first. Only after seeing where the hour hand is, should the minute hand be looked at. So, if the hour hand is at the number 3 and the minute hand is at the number 4, the time should read as 3:20. If you’re child is confused about how the number 4 on the clock corresponds to 20 minutes, remind him of the concept of 5s.

Practise: Simply explaining the concepts isn’t enough though, practice is the most important part. Start off by asking your child to read simple times such as 5:30 or 12:15. Once you’re sure she’s comfortable with this, you can move on to asking her to read more complicated times such as 2:17 or 11:08. Don’t worry if your child finds this difficult or makes mistakes, this is all part of the learning process. Remember, you can’t teach your child how to read the time without spending some of it first.

Some children are fast learners so you may not have to go through all of these steps in excruciating detail with them. For others, the learning process may be a little slower. As a parent, you know your child’s abilities best, so you can modify these steps or even incorporate some of your own to help your child. Stay patient, stay understanding and stay committed to teaching your child. And even if it’s difficult, don’t despair and put it off for another day. When it comes to teaching your child to read the time, there’s no better time than the present. 

Looking for expert tips and interesting articles on parenting? Subscribe now to our magazine. Connect with us on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube