Teaching children how to tell time is an important milestone for any parent. However, it can be a tricky process that requires lots of practice. Once a child is old enough, they can start reading analog and digital clocks, learn basic principles of time, and then progress to more complicated aspects of time.
To help your child read clocks and time, there are many skills you’ll need to work on teaching first, like being able to count in multiples of five. There are also a lot of fun ways to reinforce time-telling skills and to make practicing fun, which we’ll look at in more detail below.
A Short History of Time
When you teach your child about how to tell the time, it can be interesting to discuss the concept of time and how it arose. After all, time is a social construct that helps us relate to others and the world and is a necessary part of most people’s lives.
You could explain how it took thousands of years for humans to understand, measure, and record time. Lunar calendars marked the cyclical nature of the moon’s orbit around the Earth, and ancient Mayan calendars are based on astronomy. Julias Cesar introduced the Roman calendar, then later in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was introduced.
Throughout history, different cultures and civilizations created devices to measure time – from the Egyptian T-square and the sundial to pendulum-driven clocks.
The easiest way to get started discussing time with your child is to talk about the concept of morning, afternoon, and evening and then associate activities that we do at different times of the day.
You may even want to ask them about their ideas of how we can measure time and see how creative they can get and to think about what life would be like with the absence of clocks.
When to Teach Children to Tell Time
In general, children need to be old enough to understand the concept of time and permanence before they can start learning about time and how to tell time. They also need some basic counting skills to deal with the clock intervals.
While no two children will develop at the same pace, in general children aged 5 to 6 should be able to read analog clocks to the hour and half hour.
By age 6 or 7, children should then also know how many minutes there are in an hour, how many hours in a day, and how many days there are in a calendar year. They also get introduced to the concept of weeks and months of the year.
Children at this age should be able to tell the time in 5-minute increments and should understand the concept of quarter past and quarter to the hour.
By age 7 or 8, your child should be able to read a digital clock and convert digital time to analog time and vice versa. They should also be able to use a 12/24-hour clock.
Your child should also be able to talk about time in terms of a.m. and p.m. as well as morning, noon, afternoon, and night. By age 8 or 9, your child should be able to read Roman numerals (I to XII).
How to Tell Time on a Clock or a Watch
There are two types of clocks you’ll need to introduce your children to so they can learn how to tell time: analog clocks and digital clocks.
Analog clocks have a face with an hour hand, minute hand, and often a second hand too. Digital clocks, on the other hand, display time only using numbers and use either a 12 hour or a 24 hour display, along with an indication of whether it’s a.m. or p.m.
Tips for Helping Kids to Read Analog Clocks
Teach Kids to Count
The first step in how to tell the time is to have a basic understanding of counting and numbers. Teach children to count from 1 up to 60, so that they know how to count all of the minutes within an hour.
This will also help them divide the 60 minutes into smaller units like 5 minutes or 15 minutes. It’s also good to practice counting forward in 5s and to introduce the concept of basic fractions (half and quarter).
Make or Use a Real Clock
Either make a model clock, draw one on paper, or use a real analog clock to show your child where the hour hand is, where the minute hand is, and where the second hand is.
Reinforce the concept of 60 seconds in a minute and 60 minutes in an hour. Point out and focus on the 12, 3, 6, and 9 and explain that it helps to see the clock face as being divided into quarters and halves when telling time.
Make Time Part of Everyday Activities
Ask your child about activities in their daily routine and the times that those take place. For example, you could ask them what time they usually wake up. If they say 7 o’clock, then you might ask them if they can turn the hands of the clock to reflect that time.
Repeat with a few more examples, but start off with hours on the dot so that they can master this step before moving on to minute marks.
Emphasize Minute Hand Positions
Once your child has mastered how to tell time the time in hours, then move on to explaining the minute hand and how that indicates individual minutes, often counted in 5’s.
Try to emphasise the position of the minute hand and explain that when it’s on 12, that means it’s “o’clock” and when it’s on 6 it’s half past. Focus on this for a while before explaining the concept of quarters.
There are lots of fun clock-reading games you can play with children to help them practice these skills, which we’ll talk about later.
Tips for Helping Kids to Read Digital Clocks
Once your child has mastered telling time on an analog clock, then explain that we can write time in numbers – either from 1 to 12 hours for a.m. and p.m., or using the full 24 hours.
Start as you did with learning the analog clock by getting your child to convert hours on an analog clock into numbers on a digital clock. Once your child has a good understanding of this, you can move onto minutes.
There are also lots of fun games to help kids practice converting time from analog to digital, and giving your child a digital watch to wear will also help them become more aware of time.
Ideas and Games to Practice Telling Time
Learning to tell time can take a lot of time. That’s why children need plenty of opportunity to practice their skills, learning the basics first before progressing to more complicated aspects of telling time.
To get your child to practice these skills without it feeling boring or like work, there are lots of fun time and clock games you can play. Below are some fun clock game ideas you can play with your child to help them improve their time telling skills.
Telling Time Board Games
Most children love playing games, and they’re a great way to reinforce knowledge and skills. There are lots of games you can play that are based on reading digital or analog clocks.
One example is time bingo, where each player gets different clock faces. Each time a corresponding analog time is drawn from the hat, players can mark off the ones they have. The first person to get all the clock times on their bingo board shouts “bingo” and wins.
Teachers and homeschooling parents can use math worksheets to help visually reinforce how to tell time. Using worksheets that show analog clock faces with different hours and minutes (using 1 minute and 5 minute intervals) is great for more advanced learners.
You can also teach the concept of elapsed time through worksheets, asking questions like “what time will it be in 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 30 minutes?”, etc. You can also use worksheets where kids need to fill in analog clock hands to reflect a digital time, or vice versa.
Incorporate Telling the Time into Daily Activities
To get your child thinking about time and getting used to time telling in everyday life, you can create a weekly calendar with the times of activities like lunch and outings. When your child asks questions like “how long until lunch time”, you can get them to figure it out using the calendar schedule and a clock.
Telling time is an important skill that we use on a daily basis. From scheduling meetings to knowing when to wake up, knowing how to tell time helps us plan and organize our lives in so many ways.
Learning to tell the time is a fundamental childhood skill, but it can be complicated to learn. That’s why it’s best to start off slowly with the basics and to practice regularly.
Fun games, worksheets and using time on a daily basis helps reinforce these skills and gets kids practicing their analog and digital clock reading capabilities. They’ll be time-telling experts in no time!