Teaching Children to Tell Time

Teaching your child how to tell time can be a challenging process but it can also be a very fun one! Children as young as preschool age are able to grasp basic concepts of telling time, such as the different hands on a clock and what they do. But it’s not until the age of five that children are generally able to fully grasp the meanings of terms such as seconds, minutes, and hours. To save yourself some frustration, keep the details for when they reach kindergarten. When it’s time to fully teach them how to tell time, do it in a step-by-step process. This will make it much easier for both you and your little scholar!

Give your child a face clock or a watch to look at. First show them the second hand and explain that the second hand moves once every second. Ask them how many times the second hand moves around and, beginning at the 12, count with them for one full rotation. Once your child understands that the second hand moves around the clock 60 times, you can explain that this is because there are 60 seconds in 1 minute. To get your child fully comfortable with the second hand, repeat this step until your child can explain it back to you. This step can take as little as one week to complete or as long as one month, so be patient – they’ll get there!

Teaching about the minute hand is the next step in teaching a child how to tell time. Explain that every time the second hand moves around the whole clock one time, the minute hand will move once. Explain again that this is because there are 60 seconds in a minute and so, for every 60 times the second hand moves, the minute hand will move once. Here you can begin to incorporate activities using both the second and minute hands to get your child comfortable with these two hands. Ask them how long a television commercial is or how many minutes it takes them to brush their teeth.

Next explain the hour hand. It may be easiest to explain and understand by telling your child that, just as there are 60 seconds in a minute, there are 60 minutes in an hour. Having them stare at a clock for an hour won’t be possible for young children but you can keep pointing to the clock throughout the hour to show them how the hour hand is moving as the minute hand moves. Provide them with the same types of exercises to reinforce the concept, such as asking them how long it took to make supper or how long it took them to complete a puzzle.

To bring together all of the concepts involved in telling time, start showing your child flash cards of clocks that have the time written below them. This will let your child understand the big picture and that will help them understand the concept as a whole. Once you’ve shown them several clocks that have the time written on them, start showing them clocks that don’t have the time written below them. Ask your child what time the clock says.

Telling time can be a long process for both you and your child! It’s important that neither of you get frustrated by the process. Telling time is one of the fundamentals that once children learn it, they’ll never forget it!


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