How to Teach a Child to Tell Time

Teaching the difference between the second, minute and hour hands improves understanding.
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When teaching a child to learn to read a clock and tell time, it helps to introduce her to the abstract concept of time before getting into the calculations involved. One reason kids are confused when learning to tell time is that they don't understand the concept of how a clock works. Starting with an analog clock can help you teach her in a way that logically flows from one concept to the next. Use a digital clock only after the child understands the concept of time.

1 Explaining the Clock

Show your child a clock and explain to him that every analog clock contains a second hand, minute hand and hour hand. The second hand tells you the second and moves the fastest, the minute hand shows the minute and moves slower and the hour hand tells you the hour and barely moves at all. Show him several pictures of a clock and ask him to point to the hour hand and minute hand in each picture. Explain that the hour hand is generally the smallest hand on the clock, the second hand has a thin structure and the minute hand is bulkier. Use a demonstration clock to adjust the hands and ask the child to tell you the number closest to the hour hand and the minute hand. This prepares the student to conceptualize the passage of time.

2 Seconds, Minutes and Hours

Explain that clocks count time differently than he might count something that seems infinite, such as stars. When telling time, the seconds and minutes tick off increments of 60, and hours are counted in increments of 12 before they start over at one. If he doesn't know how to count to 60, first teach him the numbers up to 60. If he is confused when counting past 10 and experiencing double-digit numbers, having him write out his numbers from one to 60 can help make the concept clearer.

3 Counting by Five

Before you can teach a child to tell time, quiz her on her times tables. Explain that each point on the clock represents a five minute block of time. If she can count by five, then she can easily figure out the current time by multiplying five by the current number on the clock. Begin by asking your child to count from five to 60 in increments of five. After your child can count forward from five, count backward from 60. Once the child can count by five, ask her what time it would be if the minute hand rested on one, two, three, four, five and so on.

4 Work With a Clock

Show your child a clock and explain that the numbers on the clock exist as increments of five minutes each. So, the one represents one hour when the small hand falls on it, and five minutes when the big hand falls on it. Explain that the four smaller lines in between the bigger numbers represent minutes and seconds depending on the hand that falls on it. Ask him to count each of the ticks on the clock to see how many seconds and minutes the clock measures. Once he understands this concept, set up the minute and hour hand and ask him to figure out the current time. Once he understand how to calculate time, add the second hand.

Avery Martin holds a Bachelor of Music in opera performance and a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian studies. As a professional writer, she has written for, Samsung and IBM. Martin contributed English translations for a collection of Japanese poems by Misuzu Kaneko. She has worked as an educator in Japan, and she runs a private voice studio out of her home. She writes about education, music and travel.