We may not remember the moment we learned to tell time, but we might remember our first watch or any of the many smaller moments that built up to our ability to read an analog clock face. It's a skill we learn when we're young and don't think about again until we look to teach our little ones—and there really is a lot more to it than we might think!
From understanding numbers and vocabulary like "o'clock," "noon" and "midnight," to comprehending the way the hour, minute and second hands move, there's a lot to learn before our kids can actually use a clock to answer their own questions about "how much longer?" or "what time is it?" on their own. The most important thing to remember is that it isn't something that happens in a day or overnight, but in a series of moments, with the building of foundational skills over time (no pun intended!). A sense of play and a "you're getting it" attitude will help your kids learn along the way.
From gaining number sense in learning to count, to successfully reading their own digital and analog watches, we put together a series of activities to help you support your child as they learn to tell time no matter where they are in the process.
Skip Count Together
There are a few foundational skills necessary to be able to learn to tell time, and a big one is being able to count to at least 60 by ones and by fives. This is a quick and easy activity you can do with your little one while in the car, on a walk or sitting around together at home that will later help them better understand the layout of the analog clock with the double meaning of the numerals (ex: 2 = :05, 3 = :10, etc.).
There are a number of great songs on YouTube that will turn counting into a sing-a-long experience! Check out one of them here.
Make Stationary Clocks for a Schedule Board
Next, to really start learning to tell time, it helps to establish the purpose for doing so by having kids consider: When do we eat breakfast? Go to school? Eat dinner? The more frequently you reference the clock when it comes to daily schedules and routines, the bette—it will help them not only begin to identify certain times of day by the hands of the analog clock, but also understand how we use the clock to drive our day.
If you have specific times that drive your day/routine, draw out some paper clocks with the hands set to the times for "bedtime", "snack time" or "school time" and have them posted by an analog clock in the home. Keeping an eye out for when the actual clock matches any of the stationary clocks to begin the next activity is a great early step for kids working toward telling time!
Build a Clock Together
While some things about a clock cannot be changed, building your own clock is a creative endeavor! Work with your child to pick materials and the color scheme and theme to gather what you need to build your own clock. Then, as you build the clock together, take time during the process to talk about the different parts: the length of each hand, the spacing of the numbers (starting with 12, 3, 6 and 9), etc.
This process will deepen their understanding of how a clock is laid out, and once the clock is built, it will give them a useful tool to reference as they learn to read the minute and hour hands correctly. Take it a step further and build a clock that will actually work with an easy-to-use kit like the one here!
Number Flap Clocks
As mentioned with skip counting practice, one of the big hurdles for kids when learning to tell time using an analog clock is understanding the "hidden" minute markers with the hour numbers. When it comes to building (or buying) a clock, you can always make or find one that includes those numbers in addition to the hour numbers on the regular face—or you can make one of these clocks with flaps! Hiding the minute numbers supports their ability to read any clock face, whether the minute markers are there or not.
Analog/Digital Matching Game
Whether with cards or (as the STEM lab lays out here) recycled plastic easter eggs, helping your child see and match different ways of telling and communicating time is another important skill. From matching digital clock times (3:00) to written times (three o'clock), to matching digital and written times with their analog representation, any matching activity is a great way to use their "time telling" strength to support their growth in understanding how to tell time in other ways.
The best part about these activities is that they're easily gamified. Hide the eggs or play the cards face down to see who can find the most matches!
Help Them Pick a Watch
Finally, wearing a watch is both great practice and motivation for kids learning to tell time. It is daily exposure—something to study on their wrist at all times. It is also responsibility and independence; you won't have to answer the question of "how long until...?" or "what time is it?" as they learn to figure it out for themselves.
Since digital clocks are often the easier of the two clock types to read, learning to read an analog watch is a great incentive to earning their first digital watch. There are a number of great kids analog watches out there, but Flik Flak by Swatch is a kid and parent favorite with its wide range of styles, colors and an easy-to-read face.
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