How to teach kids to tell time? Talk amongst yourselves.

Amy, AKA The Lovely Mrs. Davis, asks:

I’m looking for ways to teach school-age kids to tell time. Do you or your readers have any tips for this? My 8-year-old is still not great at this and I could use some help.

I left this one to the schoolteachers, and it worked out fine, so I’ve got nuthin’. But I’m sure you do! What are your tips for teaching kids to tell time?

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  1. says

    I think it’s just like any other skill. Make a point of mentioning what time it is, what time you’ll be doing the next thing, etc. throughout the day.

    Ask the child what time it is, often. This works best if you feign being too busy to check the clock, asked casually as a favor to you.

    Think out loud about scheduling the day. “Hmm. Let’s see. What time is it. [the big hand is on the… etc.] So it’s 3:15. We put the cookies in for 12 minutes, so they’ll be done at 3:27. That’s almost 3:30…”

    We’ve approached it just like addition and subtraction, that is, integrating it into the day, and lots of thinking out loud.

  2. mama d says

    My three-year old can’t truly tell time, but we did inadvertently teach him to care about it. We put an analog clock in his room and marked 7:00 so he knew when “quiet time” was over in the morning. He somewhat got that concept. What really helped was playtime in the evenings with his little sister … our playtime. According to our son, that is supposed to end at 7:30 and he seems to know when that is by looking at his clock. If we’re not out of her room by 7:30, he comes in to her room and says it’s his turn!

  3. says

    I did two things – I made a “daily schedule” showing the time that things should be happening, and then I posted an analog clock near the schedule. I periodically send my 7yr old to look at the schedule and at the clock and tell me if it’s close to a scheduled event’s time.

    We also used this to help reinforce counting by fives.

  4. Rachel says

    Coincidentally, just yesterday was our daughter’s 7th birthday, and we got her this great watch that does exactly what you’re looking for. It’s a Timex, and is made to help kids tell time. The little hand and big hand are different colors to help with telling them apart, and best of all, next to the numbers are smaller numbers telling what the minutes are. For example, next to the 1 is a little 5, next to the 2 is a 10, and so on. She’s reading time on it already, and she LOVES it. Also, Timex has a year long replacement policy on kids watches. If she loses it within a year, I send in the proof of purchase and they’ll replace it. I got mine at Target for only $15!

  5. Jessica says

    My daughter’s school started by teaching the hours only, then the fifteen minute increments, (15, 30, 45, 00) and after that she picked up the rest of the numbers pretty quickly.
    While she was learning, we would ask her about the times she knew (what hour is it? what time is it close to?) That seemed to help reinforce her learning without frustrating her too much.

  6. BladeDoc says

    Admit that the analog clock is an anachronism that will eventually disappear and don’t worry about it.

  7. Gardner Monk says

    Analogue clocks make time easier to read at a glance. They are a more efficient method of communicating time both visually and conceptually. They are a representative quantity that once learned how to interpret takes much less effort to understand.

    Stick with the big hand and little hand, the analogue clock will be with us for the foreseeable future. :)

  8. Diane says

    Definitely one of my petpeeves! Kids aren’t doing this these days. My teenage stepkids still don’t like to look at an analog clock. They will look right at it and ask me what time it is. So don’t give up on teaching this oh-so-important skill. I’ll keep reading your posts for the great ideas for my granddaughter.

  9. Wendy says

    I teach grade 2 and here is my “trick” – Cover up the minute hand at first. Just show them the hour hand. It’s easy – it’s pointing at the 3, it’s 3 o’clock. (I just use an old cheap wall clock and manipulate the hands myself) … now move the hour hand midway between 3 and 4. Ask, “Is it still 3 o’clock or is it later now? Is it 4 o’clock yet?” No, it’s not pointing at 4 yet so you know it’s between 3 and 4. Halfway between 3 and 4 would be 3:30 or half-past 3. Practice getting them to just read the hour hand, then show them the corresponding minute hand position. Work on hours first, then teach half hour, then quarter hours, and then 5-minute increments.

  10. says

    Thanks for all the great ideas!

    Our schools have taken this out of the curriculum (it used to be in 2nd grade) when “no child left behind” came along.

    I think I probably learned to tell time (at least in part) by wanting to catch my favorite TV shows. But TV for my kids is mostly on-demand and Tivo’d so they just don’t care what time it is.

  11. Kate says

    We helped our 5 year old make a clock from a paper plate. The hands are attached with those paper pins (forgot what they’re called! Mommy brain moment) so they can move. When he asks “what time will (something) start?” We set his paper clock to the correct time. He keeps an eye on the real clock until they match and then runs to tell us “It’s 7 o’clock! Time for my bath!” Sometimes we answer him, “You can have a snack at 10. Go set your clock to ten o’clock.” and he’ll set the paper clock, watch the real clock and remind us when they match.

  12. daddyBen says

    Clocks make great parent hacks. You can purchase plastic analog clocks at your favorite retail store for <$10. If you take the faceplate off you can make a template from the existing numbers, or draw different activities (wakeup, quiet time, sleep, etc.) based on hand position. My inspiration came from this review:

    Looks like a good product, just a bit expensive.

    Happy hacking.

  13. Kirsten says

    I teach Special Ed and this is one of the hardest concepts for any child!! All of the previous ideas are ones that I use. I would add a couple more…
    1. Make a paper plate clock that the child can manipulate.
    2. Refer to the hands by long hand and short hand – as they get older I point out that the hand length is relative to their name (those are not my exact words but…) I have them label the clock hands with the name so that they can see the minute hand is long and so is the word, the hour hand is short and so is the word. This seems to help reduce the confusion between the hands.
    I hope this makes sense!

  14. mel says

    Yep — nothing new to say, just that 1) incorporating time-telling in everyday life is the most important; 2) analog time-telling is an important skill (just ask my younger sister who can’t do it); 3) books about time and time-telling are useful; and 4) giving your kids their own analog wrist watch is a big help (and makes them feel important). My daughter has been able to tell time since she was 5.

  15. Shelby says

    I think telling analog time with ease is the same as tying shoelaces or driving a stick shift: practice. If the only watch you have is analog (and are constantly asked what time it is), that reinforces the learning every time. Just like a child will become much more proficient at tying their shoes if they have to do it every time they put them on. And the only way to ever learn how to be comfortable driving a stick shift is to buy one and drive it a lot (and yes, I think that’s a very useful skill as well for teens learning how to drive–for one, it prevents them from being in a situation where they have to ride with an impaired driver if that driver is the only one who can drive the stick).

  16. says

    The curriculums I’ve used starts by just learning the hours, then the 15, 30, 45… (maybe use a sticky note on your clock until they get those down)
    Once they know those and can count by fives they can figure out the rest.

  17. Amanda says

    I teach first grade, and I teach my students to count the numbers by 5s. Once they figure out what number the big hand is just past, then they can count by ones until they get to it. Ex. 2:23, they would count 5, 10, 15, 20…then count the lines between by ones until they reached the big hand. I also use the half-way between method mentioned above for identifying the hour.