Help Your Child Learn to Tell the Time

As adults, we take the concept of time for granted, and it’s often hard to realise how difficult it can be for children to grasp the basics of time. Learning how to tell the time is taught to children in schools, but there’s plenty you can do at home to help your child grasp the basics of telling the time.

How Do Children Learn About Telling the Time in Schools?

The art of reading a clock and learning to tell the time is a concept that is firmly included as part of the National Numeracy Strategy. When children first start in reception class, it’s part of the curriculum to learn the idea of ‘o’clock’ and how this relates to the 12 numbers on a clock.

They don’t learn everything at once, as that is perceived as being to much information for young minds to absorb all at once. So in schools, you can expect your child to be learning about ‘half past’ the hour in year 1 and the notion of ‘quarter past’ and ‘quarter to’ by the time they’re in year 2. As so many clocks and watches are now digital, as well as analogue, the learning process is likely to focus on the digital side of things too.

In year 3 of school, children should be able to recognise the time down to the nearest five minutes and by year 4, their recognition should be down to the nearest minute. Once they’ve grasped a full ability to read and understand an analogue clock, more information and teaching about the 24 hour clock is introduced in maths lessons when children are in year 5.

Helping Your Child Learn About Time

Learning how to tell the time isn’t a skill that all children find easy to pick up. In fact, it’s one of the skills that can take time to fully grasp and, in conjunction with what is taught in schools, it’s helpful if you can help teach your child how to read a clock at home.

Even if you personally rely on a digital watch, the clock on your computer, car or mobile phone to let you know what the time is, do try and provide plenty of access to clocks at home. The ideal clock for your child to see is a traditional, analogue-style clock, with hands that move around and numbers that are clearly marked (children can find numberless clocks confusing).

Clocks aimed at young children are ideal in terms of size (large face, hands and numbers) and, if it has a function such as being an alarm clock, you can help teach children about getting up at a certain time too! As your child gets older, and their time telling ability progresses, you can equip them with their own first watch.

Try and include the clock in activities you do with your child, or link it to books you’re reading. For example, if a book mentions the time a child goes to bed, you could point out how this would look on the clock face, or when it’s time for your child to have their lunch, show them the appropriate time on the clock.

As they progress with their learning, you can play more complex games involving reading the time on a clock. For example, setting tasks and asking them to show what a quarter to two would be, or five past 11.

Helping Young Children Learn About Time Through Routines

The art of learning to tell the time isn’t just about learning what the time is when the big and little hands point at certain numbers on a clock, but also about how it relates to the past, present and future. Young children, for example, have no concept of time and can’t understand that Christmas is two months away – if you mention that it’s coming, they’ll think it will be very soon.

Many parents find that their child’s day is broken up into various routines – getting up, getting dressed, having breakfast, going to nursery, dinner time, bath time, bedtime etc. Getting into a routine can help children gain a better understanding of time, as they will begin to associate certain events with a particular time of the day.

To help this learning process even more, you could draw up a simple timeline or timetable, to emphasise at which particular time of day you’ll be doing which activities.

Together with the learning and education your child receives at school, you can help equip them with a good concept of time and knowledge of how to tell the time throughout the day.