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April 24, 2019

What Time Is It?

What Time Is It?

Image Courtesy of iStock.

Teaching children to learn how to tell the time can be an often difficult and stressful process for both parents and children.  Start by making the switch to analogue clocks, instead of digital clocks that avoid confronting the challenge of reading time.

The school curriculum expects children to learn about time during the first few years of primary school.  In England at age 6 (Y1) they should be able to talk about events in chronological order, e.g. morning = breakfast, home from school = afternoon; and use language like before, after, today, yesterday and tomorrow. Moreover, they learn to read an analogue clock on the hour (o’clock) and at half past; and to draw the hands on a clock face to show these times.  At 7 (Y2), children progress to reading & drawing analogue clocks to the nearest 5 minutes.  They are taught  the number of minutes in an hour, the number of hours in a day and start to have an understanding of time intervals.  By 8 (Y3) they are expected to read analogue clocks with increased accuracy to the nearest minute; they adopt both analogue and digital clocks; and they learn to measure, calculate and compare durations of events. Finally, age 9 (Y4) sees them converting time between analogue and digital, 12- and 24-hour clocks; and converting between units of time e.g. hours to minutes; minutes to seconds, years to months; weeks to days.

Time is only one small element of the Primary Maths curriculum, but there’s a lot to learn!  Anecdotally, primary teachers often confess that they dread teaching time, because many children find it so difficult.  Let’s explore some of the reasons for this.

Time: Why Do Children Find It Difficult?

The curriculum starts with the analogue clock.  Analogue clocks come in many designs.  They usually show the hour numbers from 1 to 12 and have two or three hands: an ‘hour hand’ (the short one), a ‘minute hand’ (the long one) and sometimes a ‘second hand’ (a thinner hand that moves faster).  The child first has to be able to identify the hands, so it helps if there’s a clear size difference between them.  To read the clock, the child has to identify the hour hand, the minute hand and learn to ignore the second hand.

They next have to learn what the hands are pointing to.  The short hand should be pointing to the hour numbers.  But in reality, most of the time, the short hand is pointing to the space between two hour numbers – so which one does the child read?

Then there is the question of the minute hand.  What is this pointing to?  Many children think that it’s also pointing to the hour numbers – but it’s not.  It’s pointing to a separate scale of 0-60 minutes all the way round the clock.  The tricky part is that most clocks don’t show this scale, so it has to be learned and remembered.  This takes quite a bit of doing for a young child!

The language we use to talk about time doesn’t help either, because we have several ways of expressing the time.  It’s common in speech to talk in ‘minutes past’ and ‘minutes to’ the hour, e.g. ‘ten to four’.  But the same time can also be expressed as 3:50 or even 15.50.  Our increasing reliance on all things digital means that many children grow up in households that don’t possess an analogue clock.  They learn to read digital clocks by simply reading the numbers, but they don’t develop an understanding of time. 

A news item hit the headlines in 2018 about high schools changing the analogue clocks in exam halls to digital, because teenagers couldn’t read them.  Do we want our adults of tomorrow to be walking past Big Ben, unable to read the clock?  No!

Tips To Help Your Child Read The Time

Make sure you’ve got an analogue clock.  Put it in a room that you use all the time, like the kitchen.  Choose a clock with clear, easy to read numbers on the face and an obvious size difference between the hour and minute hands.  Position the clock low down, where your child can easily see it.

Talk about time in your everyday activities, so your child learns how we express the time, e.g.  ‘It’s half past twelve now, so soon we’ll be having lunch’.  Use your clock and point to the time each time you mention it.

Buy your school child an analogue watch with clear, easy to read numbers on the face.  Wearing a watch can help your child start to take responsibility for managing their own time.  They won’t forget their first watch - I can still remember the pride of wearing mine!


Sue Shackleton is a Director of EasyRead Time Teacher, a company that specialises in clocks and watches designed to help children learn to tell the time. EasyRead Time Teacher is a family business dedicated to helping childen and adults overcome the problems encountered when telling the time onanalogue clocks.

Furthermore, EasyRead Time Teacher has gone from strength to strength, and now supplies a range of analogue time teacher clocks suitable for the home and the classroom, as well as time teacher watches, alarm clocks, card games and classroom resources. Clocks are now available in Europe, Australasia and North America, from Amazon, eBay and an increasing list of other outlets.

Start your journey to simpler time at EasyReadTimeTeacher.com 

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