Even 5-year-olds can begin to learn to tell time.

Activities That Teach Children How to Tell Time

by Freddie Silver

If your 5-year-old makes you crazy with the ubiquitous, incessant refrain, "Are we there yet?" you might want to introduce the concept of time passing. You can then begin teaching him how to tell time on a clock. Most young children are highly motivated to learn how grown-ups tell time and feel empowered once they've mastered the skill.


Maximize opportunities to discuss time with your child. For example, announce when there are 5 minutes until dinner, and count down the minutes. Talk about past, present and future to help your child gain awareness of the concept. Parents Magazine suggests using photos taken throughout the day that show your child waking up, eating breakfast, playing outside and getting ready for bed. Help him learn chronological order by asking him to sort the pictures in order. Reinforce key words such as "before," "after," "first," and "last."

Pre-Requisite Knowledge

Teaching to read time on a digital clock is easier after your child has learned to count to sixty and can read all the numbers. Many kids find the double-digit numbers tricky and need help starting on each new batch of ten. Make use of the opportunity to practice counting together whenever you're waiting -- at a red light or in line in the supermarket. You'll be practicing the numbers while emphasizing the passage of time. It's also useful if your child is able to count by fives and understands fractions like quarters and halves.

Introducing the Clock

Make a practice clock by drawing a circle on cardboard and attaching a minute and second hand in the center with a brad pin. Coloring each hand a different color makes it easier for kids to differentiate between them. Ask your child to read the clock numbers and practice moving the hands around in the correct direction. Keep the larger minute hand at twelve and explain how the smaller hand indicates the hour. After this concept has been mastered, explain the function of the minute hand. It helps to write the number of minutes in groupings of five next to the clock numbers.

Practice and Reinforcement

Create worksheets for your child to practice. Draw ten circles on a sheet of paper, with numbers and clock hands in various positions. Ask your child to write the time in digital numbers under each clock face. Have your youngster practice the exercise in reverse by making a worksheet with several clock faces without the hour or minute hands. Write various times in digital form above each clock and have your child add the clock hands in the correct position. Many websites provide interactive time-telling activities for youngsters.

About the Author

Freddie Silver started writing newsletters for the Toronto District School Board in 1997. Her areas of expertise include staff management and professional development. She holds a master's degree in psychology from the University of Toronto and is currently pursuing her PhD at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, focusing on emotions and professional relationships.

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