Learning About Time and Clocks - Tips and Difficulties

Learning About Time and Clocks - Tips and Difficulties

Tips to help your kids learn to tell the time

Whatever curriculum your kids follow, their daily lives will still need them to understand time. It is always sad when older kids still struggle with these topics because it will harm their confidence and life chances daily and leave them open to abuse.

With their digital time displays, modern devices can obscure a child's ability to read the time and make calculations using it. Teachers occasionally discover kids have a shaky understanding of time years after they should have secured the skill. We want to help you support your kids as they learn the crucial life skill of telling the time.

 Ask yourself whether your child can do the following, whatever their age:

Read the time from a traditional analogue clock face or a digital display.

Work out how much time there is between two given times.

Add and subtract time from a given time.

Understand how questions about units of time differ from calculations in other topics.

To elaborate on this last point, kids must be clear that time is not decimal. We mainly use decimal calculations in other number problems, making working with time difficult for kids as time's units are not based on the number ten.

One and a half hours as a span of time can be written as: 1.5 hours, 1 hour 30 minutes or 90 minutes. Kids who use a calculator to add time make mistakes like writing 1.5 hours as 1 hour 50 minutes because they don't realise that 0.5 is half an hour or 30 minutes.

Quick Tips for helping kids learn to tell the time

Learn the numbers —  make sure they can count to sixty and recite the five times table. 

Engage in time-based activities — Use clocks in games and activities (such as baking with a timer).

Kids computer games often have timers — talk to them about the length of time it measures

Break it down — Start with hours and half-hours, then five-minute intervals reading time accurately to the minute.

Common Difficulties Kids have with telling the time.

Believing that the hour hand moves every hour — many children initially think the hour hand jumps from one hour to the next. In reality, the hour hand moves gradually throughout the hour.
Confusing the hour and minute hands — children may mix up the hour and minute hands. Reinforce which is which through lots of practice.
Ignoring the concept of a.m. and p.m. — kids may not initially understand the distinction between a.m. and p.m.. They could incorrectly apply the time of day to all clock hours without considering whether it's morning or afternoon.
Difficulty with elapsed time — children may struggle to calculate how much time has passed between two given times on a clock, especially when it spans hours or crosses over noon or midnight.
In part 2 of our Telling the Time with Educational Apps series, we'll help you choose the best time-learning apps for your kids.
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