Using Apps to Learn Time and Analog Clocks

Using Apps to Learn Time and Analog Clocks

How to help your kids learn to use analog clocks

We recommend digital manipulatives over physical ones for supported learning activities where you move each hand because they ensure that the hour hand reflects the set time. It is easy to forget to move the hour hand appropriately when changing the minutes on a physical demonstration clock.

Digital clock faces are also more customisable to reflect your child's understanding.  You can turn visual aids on and off. With some, you can have a digital and analogue clock visible simultaneously to help kids understand the two ways of displaying the same thing.

Educational apps are a powerful tool for helping kids learn to tell the time, but variety is still critical. Physical learning aids can be best for young kids. As they play with moving the clock's hands, you can introduce important time-related words.


Physical teaching aids rarely have enough feedback and support built into them to let kids learn independently.

We've reviewed different clock and time-telling apps with various approaches to teaching and practice.  Some are very gamified with cartoon characters helping kids learn. Others are plainer for kids who don't enjoy the distractions. These latter types of clock apps are perfect for older kids whose learning has been delayed — the 'babyish' graphics of the other apps can harm their confidence and enthusiasm.

What features should you look for in a time-teaching or clock app?

Narration – don't let your kids' still-developing reading skills hold them back from learning about the time. Choose an app that speaks the questions and times aloud.

Graphical style — does your child find lots of graphical flourishes and cartoon characters entertaining or irritating? Pick an app to match their preferred style.

Visual aids — each app has different visual aids to help kids learn about clock faces.

Depth — Some apps only set out to help kids tell the time, while others have in-depth challenges such as calculating elapsed time or answering word problems

Why kids need to learn to use analogue clocks

Daily use. The traditional clock face is not as common as it once was, but it isn't extinct. We'll still see and use them for the foreseeable future.

It is an expected skill. We might not raise an eyebrow if somebody does not know some aspects of mathematics, but we would be surprised if somebody could not read the time from an analogue clock.

 It is worth marks. It might be a circular argument, but while schools teach about analogue clock faces, they will test kids on them. These marks will be safe if kids can use analogue clocks.

Visual understanding. Analogue clocks take more effort to read than digital clocks, but they help kids build up a visual idea of time. Kids who understand analogue clocks find it easier to work with time in other ways, such as calculating the time after a given duration.

Less Stress. Some schools have contemplated removing analogue clocks from exam rooms, as trying to read them stresses kids. The rest of the world will not be so accommodating, so being able to read clocks easily will avoid this stress everywhere.

Standards and Curricula

In England and the US, we expect kids to be able to tell the time using traditional clocks by age 8.

US CCSS Grade 2: Tell and write time from analog and digital clocks to the nearest five minutes, using a.m. and p.m.

English National Curriculum Year 3: tell and write the time from an analogue clock, including using Roman numerals from I to XII, and 12-hour and 24-hour clocks.

How to teach analogue clocks

Break it down. Schools typically start with teaching to tell time to the hour, then half past, and then the quarters. Later they move on to reading time to the minute.

Help kids memorise the units. Analogue clocks emphasise that there are sixty seconds in a minute and sixty minutes in an hour.

Use digital manipulatives. Websites and apps have clock faces where you can set the time and ask questions.

Use apps. Digital manipulatives are great for you to support and question your kids. Apps set questions and guide children so they can learn and practice independently of you. A mix of supported and independent learning is ideal.

In the home. Have analogue clocks in the home, refer to them, and get your kids to do the same.

Make the links. Analogue clocks, digital clocks, and 24-hour time are all linked. Help kids understand how.

Use the knowledge. Use analogue clockfaces to help kids extend their understanding of time—they are much better for this than digital clocks. Calculations that advance the hour are more difficult, so start with questions that just advance the minutes. Move the hands to calculate 15 minutes later, 1 and a half hours from now, 48 minutes from now, and so on.

US and British English differ in the spelling of analogue/analog for traditional clock faces.  It doesn't matter which spelling a teaching resource or app uses, but make sure your kids don't pick up the wrong spelling for their region.

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