Learning The Clock: With A Good Plan, Lots Of Patience And Even More Fun

Children should learn the clock – at the right time. But when is the right time? And what’s the best way to introduce kids first to the analog clock and later to digital displays?

Our article addresses these important questions and provides a practical step-by-step guide with lots of valuable tips.

“Who Turned The Clock?…”

“… Is it really that late already?” So says the children’s song from the classic animated series “The Pink Panther”, which is still very popular today. So that not only the great star of this cartoon Paulchen Panther can correctly estimate the time, but also your child gradually understands how to deal with the time, you need a good plan to help your offspring learn the time – playfully and effectively.

A Typical Mommy-Child Dialogue….

“Mommy, when’s dinner?”
“In two hours, honey.”
“How long is an hour?”

Well, how to answer these and other questions about time when the child has yet to develop virtually any sense of the ubiquitous phenomenon?

“Hmm, well, as long as it takes us to drive to grandma’s house.”
“Ooh, that’s a long time!”

For a few minutes, your child should be satisfied for now. But soon he might join you in the kitchen again, asking with cute googly eyes:

“Mom, when’s dinner?”

How nice it would be at that moment to simply point to the wall clock and say:

“At noon.”

Unfortunately, it takes a more extensive learning process before it is enough to utter just two curt words and be understood by the child. But what does “unfortunately” actually mean. Basically, it is something nice to teach your own child new things – learning to watch is definitely part of this, even if it can be more difficult than expected.

There are many ways to teach children to read and understand the time. Some of them are better, others less useful – in our eyes.

Below, we present you our favorite method, which we are convinced is very suitable for making girls and boys familiar with the time.

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From What Age Can Children Learn The Clock?

It is true that even babies just a few months old experience a temporal order – for example, through breastfeeding, waking and sleeping times. However, a proper concept of time develops only slowly. Babies and young children live entirely in the here and now.

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Even elementary school children often still confuse information about speed, duration and differences in time. Developmental psychologist Jean Piaget, for example, found that some first- and second-graders think that a toy car that clearly travels the same length of time but faster than another toy car, and thus travels a greater distance, consumes more time.

So the conclusion is often, “What goes farther also takes longer.” Understanding the various relationships between space, time and speed does not happen overnight; like so many things in life, it takes time.

Piaget concluded from his study that, depending on the individual’s developmental speed, it can take up to the age of ten before children can, on the one hand, assign different processes to time and, on the other, relate them to each other.

Extra: Stages Of Cognitive Development

Here is an overview of the stages of cognitive development in children:

  • 3 – 4 years: Magic phase, ego-centered thinking.
  • 4 – 5 years: Better understanding of space, time and quantity.
  • 5 – 6 years: Learning by observation is still in the foreground.
  • 7 – 12 years: Logical thinking is on the rise.

At kindergarten age, kids are often already able to correctly classify the events of past weeks, months and seasons. And at an average age of five, the little ones begin to “measure” a period of time by counting.

We advise you to start teaching your child about time at about this age, but please do so in a relaxed and playful manner and without too many expectations.

Children Like To Work With Clocks

It is practical that children like to play with calendars and clocks. But that alone does not ensure a fully developed understanding of time. We can also think of an amusing example that some parents have probably experienced themselves.

The five- or six-year-old child, already well acquainted with the hands and numbers, turns the clock hands to the start of his favorite show, then asks mom to turn on the TV and finally wonders why Winnie the Pooh won’t appear on the screen.

The Best Moment To Learn The Time

After these interesting and entertaining anecdotes, we will now briefly summarize the best time to learn the time:

  • There is no fixed age recommendation. If you do want to give one, the age of four to five years is probably a good guideline.
  • The basic prerequisite for learning the time is that your children can read numbers.
  • It’s best to start “clock lessons” when your child shows an interest and desire to learn.
  • At the latest, when school starts, your child should be able to read the clock, because from this stage it is important to make time agreements with your offspring.
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General Tips For Learning The Time

Be sure to explain the time and how to read the clock step by step. Please don’t try to “hammer” everything into your child in one day. Be patient. Everything in its own time.

Before reading the time from a clock face, your child should get a sense of time. Help him get a sense of time by specifically relating certain actions to it. For example, “An hour is as long as the drive to Grandma and Grandpa‘s house.”

When you then begin to learn the clock with your child, you should first stick completely to the twelve-hour concept. So leave out “1 p.m.” and so on for the time being. In the first steps, familiarize your child again and again with the most essential basic concepts about time. Specifically:

  • A day has 24 hours. An hour has 60 minutes. One minute has 60 seconds.
  • After night comes morning, then noon, then afternoon, then evening, and then night again.
  • Clocks have three hands: hour hand, minute hand, second hand.
  • The hands always move to the right.

Children often learn easier and faster when you use stories and good, appropriate associations. Here are some examples of what you can do in this regard:

  • Hop around the apartment with your child for a minute and then say, “That was just a minute ago.”
  • Agree with your child not to speak until you lift the ban on silence after five minutes. Then say, “That was five minutes.” Such activities help your child develop a sense of time.
  • Give the hands characters. For example, the hour hand can be Grandma; it takes her much longer to take a step than it does Mom. The latter is then the minute hand. Of course, the child would also like to have a role – it may be the second hand. Of course, you can also fill the hands with other people/animals.

Whenever you talk about the time with your offspring or just in the presence of your child, you should say “clock”, not just briefly mention the number. So instead of saying “It’s five o’clock,” say “It’s five o’clock.” This ensures that there is no confusion when the minutes are added later (“It is five ten.” et cetera).

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Avoid colloquial variations such as “quarter four” and “three quarters of four.” Instead, consistently use the “classic” versions (quarter past and quarter to). Praise your child regularly for any progress, no matter how small.

Learning The Time: Step-By-Step Instructions

Quick note: For this tutorial, we assume that:

  • Your child can read numbers.
  • You have already taught your child a certain sense of time.
  • Your child already knows that the small, thicker hand is the hour hand, the longer, slimmer hand is the minute hand, and the very fast moving hand is the second hand.

The point is not that your child consciously understands the differences between the hands, just that he or she can tell them apart by name and visually. To illustrate, it’s best to use a simply constructed learning clock that only shows the numbers from 1 to 12 and has moving hands.

Always go to the next step only when the previous one is 100 percent correct.

1. Step: The Full Hours

  • First, emphasize again that the small, thick hand shows the full hour.
  • Say that the longer, slightly slimmer hand is always at position 12 for the full hour.
  • So turn the minute hand to 12 and the hour hand to any number, such as 1. Then say, “What time is it? It’s one o’clock.”
  • Ask your child to repeat the statement.
  • Turn the hour hand to another number and ask your child, “What time is it?”
  • He may delight you right away with the correct answer
  • Otherwise, just do a few more passes of the partial step described above.
  • Important: Remember to stick to the twelve-hour schedule (NOT 1 p.m., etc.).
  • Tip: After a few repetitions, let your child set a specific time himself. This is certainly fun for him and loosens up the lessons.

2. Step: The Half Hours

  • Explain to your child that in addition to full hours, there are also half hours and that these last half as long as full hours.
  • Then show that the minute hand travels to the number 6 for the half hour.
  • Then turn the hour hand to any number, for example 4.
  • Then say, “What time is it? It’s half past three.”
  • Proceed in the same way as for learning the full hours.
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3. Step: The Quarter Hours

  • Now explain that besides full and half hours, there are also quarter hours – and that the minute hand is either on the 3 or on the 9.
  • Move the minute hand to the 3 position and the hour hand to the 5 position.
  • Then say, “What time is it? It’s a quarter past 5.”
  • Do a few repetitions with different numbers.
  • Then follow the same little game with “quarter past.” You know what you have to do.

4. Step: The Minutes

  • Your child already knows from the preliminary exercises that an hour has 60 minutes. With this “basic knowledge”, the tricky minute step will certainly work well.
  • Start with units of five, i.e. “five to”, “ten to”, “20 to” etc. and vice versa “25 to”, “20 to”, “ten to” and so on.
  • Only then do you get to the really hard individual minutes. As soon as your child has understood all this in terms of the basic principle, you can, at the request of your girl or boy, go into detail and work on such chunks as “ten past half past” or “twenty to half-past” etc. Always according to the same pattern. Always according to the same scheme.

5. Step: Calculate Time Intervals

  • For this step, your child must already have some basic mathematical knowledge. With the help of simple exercises, you can then have your children calculate time intervals.
  • Example: We go to bed at nine o’clock. Now it’s half past seven. How many minutes will it take before we go to sleep?

6. Step: Learning The 24-Hour Concept

  • As soon as the first five steps are in place, you can teach your child the 24-hour concept, i.e. explain that after noon it continues with 13, 14 and so on – until midnight, when the whole thing starts all over again.

7. Step: Digital Complements Analog Clock

  • When your child has fully grasped how analog time works, there’s nothing wrong with introducing the digital version as well. Explain to your child that 6:30 (digital time) is the same as half past six (analog time).

Learning To Tell The Time – An Overview Of Useful Aids

  • Learning clock (bought or self-made – instructions are available online).
  • Exercise sheets from the Internet for free download.
  • Games and books about time.
  • Final goal: your own wristwatch on which the time is displayed in analog form (e.g. as a gift for starting school).

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