Telling Time Made Easy for Kids

clock for telling time
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Telling time is a life essential skill and is a big stepping-stone in a child's life. Being able to tell time makes the child feels grown up. Teaching kids how to tell time takes time, patience and encouragement. There are many ways for kids to master this skill as long as they are ready to learn.

In fact, my children are so keen to learn to tell time that they prompted me to teach them earlier than I expected.

It did not occur to me that a young child does not understand the sense of time until an interesting incident happened......

My daughter was about 3.5 years old then. She went over to her grandma's house next door to watch cartoon and promise to be back at 9 o'clock to go to bed. I went over to get her at a quarter past nine when she was not back. She said, "Mom, you never teach me how to read the clock. So, I do not know when 9 o’clock! is"…though the clock was just hanging on top of the TV.

Challenges in teaching time to kids

Time Sense

- Young children do not have time sense. They have no sense how long is ten minutes, half hour or an hour.

Ability to Count and Understand Fraction

- The challenge for telling time comes in since there are 60 minutes in an hour. Reading time on analog clocks is often referred to in fractional terms. Children must be able to read and order numbers to 60, have an understanding of halves and fourths before they can read time. In general, children will only be well verse of fractions and order numbers to 60 at about 7-8 years old.

It does not mean that we should not teach telling time to children even with these challenges at a young age.

How Kids Learn to Tell Time

There are several ways we can help children to master their time sense and learn how to tell time.

Daily Scheduled Activities

It is important to establish a daily routine schedule for children. Children brought up with an established daily schedule of activities can relate time based on their daily activities.

They can relate morning as the time to wake up and have breakfast. Afternoon is the time for lunch followed by a nap. Then, dinner and sleep at night. Kids learn simple time in a day such as morning, afternoon, evening and night.

Such routine scheduled activities also help to build time sense. They measure time interval based on the sequence of their daily activities.

My kids used to ask me when I would be back when I go to office or run errands. I told them I would be back from work when they had their meals while the sun is setting – that is evening. If I was running a short errand after their lunch, I told them I would be back when they wake up from their afternoon nap.

Using the sequence of their daily routine activities as a guide, the kids get a sense of how long I will be away and what time I will be back home. Telling time is simple for children to understand when it is referred to their activities.

Telling Time Games

There are many simple activities we can use to teach kids to tell time. Observing the position of the sun in the sky, measuring length of shadow and playing online clock games.

Learn to Read Clock

Use a clock to introduce hour when the kids are able to count from one to twelve. 
It is essential to give them a clock; be it a toy clock, real clock or watch. To the kids, it is another toy they can play with. Let them explore the gadget and figure out how to turn the clock hands etc. They may not be able to remember hour and minute hand. My kids called them the "long hand" and "short hand". I let it be as the child will be keener to learn with him taking the lead.

Do remember to introduce digital clock as well. Children need to learn reading digital time after grasping reading time with analog clock.
Refer to the clock, mention the time in hour and minutes with their activities during daily conversation. For example, you can tell them at the breakfast table – “….finish your breakfast by quarter past eight. Your school is going to start at half past eight" while referring to a clock at the same time.

Just like any skills, practice makes perfect. Use these printable clock worksheets for reading clock practice.

Learn about Time from Calendar

calendar to learn day, month and year

Telling time is not only hour, minutes and clock. We should also get children to learn about day and month using calendars. Give your kid a calendar, get him to circle the important dates, tell him the different festivals and holidays on the calendar. It is wonderful to know that my son has all family members birthday tracked in this way by himself.

Hierarchy of Time Sense Skills

Teaching kids learn to tell time does not simply stop at the point when they can tell time. It is important that we need to expand their time sense. This will set the foundation for them to have good time management skills in years to come.

The Hierarchy of Time Sense Skills is a good guideline. It may even be useful for autistic kids too.

Before you knew it, your child would have overcome this big milestone.

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