How to Teach Your Child to Tell Time through Fun Activities

Counting Troubles!“It’s time! We’ll be late.”

I shrieked at the top of my voice as I packed his lunch box into his bag and shoved his water bottle! So much hurry was triggered because we were almost 10 minutes late for school and my son wasn’t willing to leave.

Don’t most of us say these time-related clichés to our children—who don’t even know what time means, let alone being able to tell time? My son doesn’t know 8 o’clock from 6 o’clock or even the significance of those numbers on the wall clock (although dotingly I’ve bought him three watches that he wears upside down!)

Well, my piece today was elicited by this very thought–the thought of talking about time without thinking about it.

As I strolled across the walking path a few evenings ago, I made small talks with a few fellow mothers just to know what they think about time-talk. I ended up with interesting examples from fellow parents and a teacher’s point of view about time, besides a list of easy-to-follow steps about teaching children to tell time.

So, get, set, and read on!

1) “What time is it?”

Udita says that she usually wakes up speaking this statement. Although her alarm clock beeps and she’s the one who had set the time on it, a question about time starts her day.

Don’t all of us identify with this situation in one way or another?

We accidently ask what time it is even though we have an idea because; knowing the exact time of the day is important to get our thought processes moving.

“We are driven by the discipline that time offers. Otherwise, living would be like moving around in a dark and endless room,” says Kira, a teacher who was till recently working at the Peel Secondary School near Toronto, Canada. Currently, she works  in Belgium and we reconnect regularly to share our experiences.

She mentions that talking about time with children should be done in steps, where logically the first step should be to talk about the numbers on the clock and the number of hours in a day.

For easy understanding, I divided her ideas into separate steps. Here’s the first one:

Number games

“The first step in talking about time should be identifying digits,” says Kira.

  • Introduce the numbers on the clock. Make them repeat 1 to 12.
  • Draw the child’s attention towards the placement of the numbers as a circle.
  • Talk about the number of hours in the day.
  • Mention that numbers in the clock are used twice. Once to tell time in the morning and afternoon; and then in the evening and night.
  • Once the logic about the numbers is in place, time-based instructions will become easier.

The number clock

You can do this to make talking about numbers fun and introducing time.

You’ll need:

  • A number stencil
  • 2 sheets of plain A4 paper
  • A large piece of cardboard
  • Colour pencils/crayons
  • Glue
  • A pair of scissors

What do you do?

  • Trace the numbers 1 to 12 on the sheets of plain paper.
  • Make number cut-outs and keep them aside.
  • Cut the piece of cardboard into a circle (12-14 cm in diameter).
  • Colour the circular cardboard and the number cut-outs as per your child’s fancy.
  • Help your child paste the numbers on the circular cardboard to make a clock.

Once your cardboard clock is ready, talk about numbers on the clock and number of hours in a day. “Keep the explanations simple and only number-based. Don’t get into details in this first step,” says Kira.

Why don’t you try it out?

RELATED:Colours: How To Teach Your Toddler To Identify Colours

2) “It’s time to pack your bags and go home.”

This is how Fatima closes her day with her class. She’s an assistant teacher at a Mumbai-based preschool. Time-talk is an inherent part of our conversations and kids don’t find that unnatural at all.

“We speak to children about time, all the time, so teaching about time should be easy,” explains Kira.

She states that when we talk about ‘time’ for a certain thing/activity, we should draw the kid’s attention to the clock. This becomes our next step.

“Once they learn the numbers on the clock, we can point to those numbers and tell them that it’s time to do a certain thing because a certain number is being pointed at in the clock,” says Kira.

She explains that when we say bed time, school time, or time to play, we should associate it with a certain number on the clock.

“When your kid sees the clock hand pointing to 8, he/she will know that it is school time because it’s morning and 8 in the morning means school time,” says Kira.

Time to act

  • Sit with your child and ask him/her about the things that are done during the day. Commonly, children mention going to school, watching TV, playing with toys, eating, and so on.
  • Make a list of these activities on a sheet of paper. Make sure your child knows what you’re writing.
  • Tell him/her about school time—the time when he/she leaves for school.
  • Make a note of that number on the sheet. Deal only with whole numbers and not halves or quarters.
  • As you complete the list (noting a number for every task), point to those numbers on the clock.

What happens?

This activity gives children a clear idea about the right time to do things and “clarity is a great feeling,” concludes Kira.

Telling Time!3) “Don’t waste time!”

How often do you say this phrase? Now, if kids don’t understand time and cannot tell time either, how do we expect them to understand its passing?

Kira says that understanding the movement of time should be the next step towards teaching children to tell time.

“They should know that time is not static. It is perpetually moving,” she explains.

The idea behind this thought is that when children understand numbers and move to associating numbers with their usual tasks, we can move to the next step of teaching them about the movement of time on our clocks.

“How does 8’o clock become 9′ o clock and 10 becomes 11, are questions we should answer for them,” says Kira.

When children understand movement of time, slowly, they are able to tell time, based on the diminutive movements on the clock.

Add the hands

  • Use the cardboard clock that you made for the first step or make another one.
  • Make sure that this time the clock has hands as well. You can cut and stick cardboard strips to make clock hands—minutes, hours and seconds.
  • Once you have a handmade clock ready, show your child how the hands on the clock move.
  • Make sure to mention clockwise and anticlockwise directions. Talk about the hand moving every hour from one number to another.
  • You can add as many details as you want based on your child’s level of understanding. Not too many details in one go!

What happens?

  • Children understand movements on the clock.
  • They understand the direction in which these movements occur.
  • They are able to tell time, based on these movements.

Handmade clock, here I come!

4) Move to fractions

“I have been waiting for 15 minutes now!”

I heard a lady say this to her kids at the playground. I smiled since she gave me the idea for this next point on my piece. As I moved around, I came across several instances when parents were talking about time in fractions.

“C’mon, it’s half past eight. We need to have dinner and get to bed,” was another parent trying to convince his child to get back home.

“Explaining fractions on the clock should be the last step towards time-talk with children,” explains Kira when I mention these experiences to her. “Even young children understand fractions, but they might not get them right each time they tell time,” she adds.

Kira says that while there is no harm explaining fractions to little children, they might not be able to retain the concept. “Don’t let that bother you. It’s okay that you have taught them and but they haven’t learnt,” she explains.

Isn’t she right about being bothered? Whenever we teach children something, we expect great results. Sometimes, they may forget details—telling time is not such an easy task.

“That’s why, leave the fractions till the end,” says Kira.

Read a clock

  • Place a large wall clock in your kid’s room or in an area where he/she plays and point to the clock to note the time when you play together.
  • After 10 minutes, point to the clock again and show how the little hand has not moved much but the bigger hand has moved considerably. Mention the movement of ten minutes.
  • Then after five minutes, talk about the movement of fifteen minutes which is a quarter.
  • Once the clock has moved half-an-hour ahead, mention the concept of halves (which is easy).
  • You can move to talking about time in five-minute intervals as well. Count with your child while looking at the clock and see the movements of the second’s hand.
  • Stop and explain every movement that each hand on the clock makes every minute.
  • Buy your child a watch that has all the numbers (1-12) written on it. The next time you play, you can ask them to explain what they see on their watch.

What happens?

  • Since you have completed steps 1 to 3, your child will have an idea about what time means.
  • Also, the child understands movements on the clock.
  • In this step, the child is able to understand the basic fractions (especially half past) on the clock.
  • Plus, when he/she gets a watch, the attempt to tell time more accurately improves.

Your child will be introduced to the clock through these steps and activities. Not only do these activities engross your child, it’s a fun way to pass time together.

“Experiences with every child differ,” says Kira. While one child may tell time in a matter of days, another may not be inclined towards time for weeks after your begin. In both cases, make sure that you keep your instructions and activities going and buy your children their own clock.

The results? Only time will tell!

Activity kit - TV

What are the fun ways in which you teach your child to tell time? Share one or two of them with us.

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Mother to a five-year-old, Amrita Minocha is essentially a teacher. She teaches GRE/GMAT/IELTS verbal courses, English as a second language (TESOL), and Yoga! An MBA in HR, she enjoys juggling between diverse roles. A hardcore bookworm who aims to pen a book someday, she currently writes GRE verbal samples, activity books for kids, and actively blogs on the Flintobox blog.

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