One of the most enjoyable and important milestones for young children is learning to tell time on a traditional analog clock. For parents, it often marks a proud moment when we can congratulate our children on accomplishing an important goal. For children, there’s a sense of pride in having solved a grown-up puzzle.
How to go about teaching this skill is often a mystery though. Do we teach children to count by five? Should we label every tick mark on the clock, one through sixty? Like any other skill, there’s no one best way to teach every child. By knowing your child’s strengths and having a sense of what skills you want them to learn, you can come up with lessons that make learning to tell time easy and fun.
One way to approach this lesson is to teach children to count by five. In some cases, parents teach children to look at the numbers on the clock and multiply by five. So if the child sees the second hand on the “9”, they would come up with “45.” However, for young children who lack the math skills to multiply, it can be useful to help your child memorize the appropriate numbers. You could make a paper clock labeled with minute markers to help your child memorize the positions of “5, 10, 15, 20,” and so on.
Next, you want to make sure your child is comfortable counting to sixty. It’s important to master this skill before taking on the clock so that children don’t become frustrated encountering strange numbers. Once a child knows that the “10” on the clock means “50,” they can count off the tick marks to get the exact time. This short cut can help children feel like they’ve accomplished something big before they’re able to multiply the actual numbers or count around the entire clock.
Finally, it’s important to make practicing a normal part of you and your children’s routines. Maybe there’s a clock in the kitchen where they eat breakfast before school. You could assign your child the task of telling you when it’s 7:30 or 7:35, so you know when it’s time to leave the house. This gives them an important responsibility and tells them that you believe they can do an important job. Then after school, you might ask them to tell you when it’s 6:30 so everyone knows it’s time for dinner. By providing simple but exciting opportunities to practice, you can help motivate your child to pick up an important skill that much faster.