Teach Your Kids About Time Telling

One of the main milestones in childhood is learning time telling. This is something that can be taught to any child 4 years old or older (and many younger children are also able to learn to tell the time). This is not something that has to wait until kindergarten. Your child can get a head start in school if you teach him or her to tell the time before they start.

Step 1: Teach Your Child To Count

Many of the books on the subject suggest that your child needs to know how to count before they can learn to tell the time. This is perfectly sensible, the only question lies in how far they need to be able to count:

  • Some books suggest that they need to be able to count only to 12 as that is as high as the actual numbers on the clock go.
  • Other sources say that it is better to teach them to count to 60 before teaching them how to tell the time so that they can count the minutes as well as the hours.

No matter your thoughts, your child will need to be able to count at least up until 12 before you can teach them to tell the time.

Step 2: Long Hand And Short Hand

This step of the process requires you to have an analog clock close at hand for use as a real life example. Start by explaining to your child that there is a long hand and a short hand and then spend the next few days having him or her simply point to the long hand or the short hand when asked.

Step 3: Teach Them The Hour

Once your child is consistently able to point out the long hand and the short hand to you on a clock, start teaching them the hours. Tell them that you know what the hour is by looking at the number that the short hand is pointing at. Tell them that when the long hand points at the twelve, this is “o’clock”. So, if the short hand is pointing to the seven and the long hand is pointing to the twelve, it is 7 o’ clock. Have them tell the time just before their favorite activities so that time telling has positive connotations.

Step 4: The Half Hour

The next step in the process is teaching your child the half hour. This is done by taking a circle that is the same size as the real (or cardboard) clock that you are using to teach your child to tell the time. Cut it in half. Hold the two halves up and put them together and explain that this is a whole circle. Separate them and hand one half to the child and explain that this is a half. Have your child imitate you until it is second nature.

Step 5: Putting It Together

The next step involves associating the half circle with the clock:

  • Take the half circle and cover half the clock with it and explain how you can only see half the clock.
  • Tell your child that, just like 12 is “o’clock”, six is “half past” if the long hand points to it.
  • Once they seem to have understood the basic ideas behind the half hour, start arranging the hands of the clock in simple hour and half hour times and get your child to tell you what the time is.Telling Time

Step 6: Clock Worksheets

There are many worksheets for teaching kids to tell the time available online. Find a worksheet with many blank clock faces and fill in the times. This exercise can work in two ways. You can show a child a clock face and ask them to write down the time, or you can show them a time and ask them to draw in the hands on a clock face. Children who are younger and cannot read “o’clock” and so on yet should be allowed to simply do these exercises verbally until they can read a clock without any trouble.

Step 7: Constant Reminders

Your child needs to be constantly reminded throughout the day about the existence and purpose of the clock on the wall. Ask them to help you tell the time each time you go out during the day. Turn time telling into a game where you race to see who can figure out the time first, giving them tips and clues along the way so that they have their chance to ‘win’ as well. By making the clock and time telling an everyday normal event your child will begin to internalize the numbers and their understanding of time will solidify.

Step 8: Quarter Hour

Once your child can tell the hour and the half hour 100% of the time, they are ready to move on to telling the quarter hour. Again you will need to cut a circle the same size as your practice clock into quarters. Take one quarter and show how it covers a portion of the clock. For children who can read:

  • Label the halves with ½ or “half”
  • Label the quarters with ¼ or “quarter”

Spend some time getting them used to the idea of quarters and take a break before moving on to the next step.

Step 9: Practice

This break is used as a practice period for your child. Leave him or her alone for a while with the materials (the clock and the quarters) and let them play with it for a while until they are familiar with how the quarter works and can use the word “quarter” quite naturally and comfortably. This is the same method that you followed with the half circles earlier in the process. It is very important that they play with the materials themselves as opposed to merely watching you as it is through this actual practice that the most learning will take place.

Step 10: Review

The next few days are spent:

  • Reviewing the wall clock
  • Focusing specifically on your child’s skills at telling the hour and the half hour
  • Slowly introducing the idea of the quarter hour just in passing

Your child will probably naturally be able to pick up on the idea that the quarter means something very similar to the half and they will be ready to absorb this new knowledge when you teach it to them in the next step of the time telling process.

Step 11: Quarter Past

Place the quarter circle between the 12 and the 3 and tell your child that this is a quarter. When the short hand points to the three it is “quarter after”. Your child now knows the following:

  • 12 = o’clock
  • 6 = half past
  • 3 = quarter after

Put the long hand at the one and the short hand at the 3 and ask your child what time it is. Elicit “quarter after 1” and then move on to the
quarter after 2” and so on until you have done all of the numbers in sequence. Let your child practice this a few times and take breaks if needed.

Step 12: Quarter Till

The next step is to teach your child how to say “quarter till”. This involves putting the quarter over the clock between 9 and 12 and explaining that this is the quarter till segment. They now know:

    • 12 = o’clock
    • 6 = half past
    • 3 = quarter after
    • 9 = quarter till

Tell them that the short hand is closer to the three than the 2 in “quarter to three” which is why it is quarter to three and not quarter to two. Let them practice with all of the permutations.

Step 13: Proficiency

Now that your child knows the basics of telling the time they just need to practice until they are proficient. This could take a few days or a few months, but with the right reinforcement and constant exposure to time telling situations, your child should learn to tell the time the sooner or later. Once your child can count in fives you can start speaking about 5 and 10 past and so on and once they’ve understood that there are 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute their time telling skills will become even more refined.

The above steps are straightforward and clear. However it is important to remember that every child is different and that they each develop at different rates. Some children may get stuck on a certain step while at the same time skipping others because they’ve figured it out for themselves. Time telling is one of the most basic skills which your children will learn to develop if given enough encouragement and time. If the above method doesn’t work for your child, all it means is that there is another method out there that is better for them.




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