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The Crucial Key to Teaching Kids to Tell Time

Struggling to teach your kid how to tell time with an analog clock?

Been there!

It seems like an easy enough skill that most people pick up in elementary school. 

Many parents will quickly find out though that learning to tell time can be tricky and is definitely a perishable skill. 

I was very blessed to stumble on to some excellent advice during my first year of homeschooling, so I am very happy to pass it along to you!

I know this simple teaching hack will make all the difference when trying to teach your kids to tell time!

But, Aren’t Analog Clocks a Thing of the Past? Does My Kid Even Need to Know How to Read One?

The Easy Way to Teach Your Kid to Tell Time Pin

No. And um, yes.

In fact, analog clocks are a lot like cursive to me.

People told me that teaching my kids to write in cursive was a waste of time. They will type everything that is important anyways, right? 

But, I found out really quickly that there are things written ALL AROUND us in cursive. My second grader would occasionally tap me on the shoulder and say, “What does that say, Mom? I can’t read those letters.” Everything from wall decor items to historical documents are written in cursive and I want my kid to know how to read them. 

When it comes to analog clocks, it is the same way. Yes, we all have phones and digital clocks all over the house, but analog clocks still exist in beautiful watches, clocks at the airport, doctor’s office, and other waiting rooms.

Knowing how to read them is a life skill (and math skill!) that your kid should know how to do confidently.

3 Steps to Do BEFORE Teaching Your Child to Tell Time

kid and two analog clocks

1. Count to 60 by ones

2. Count by 5s

I think counting by 5’s is one of the easiest levels of skip counting for kids to get.

I usually stand up with my child and have them stomp back and forth from one foot to another while emphasizing the multiples of 10: five, TEN, fifteen, TWENTY, twenty-five, THIRTY, and so on. 

This takes on a “sing song” quality and kids LOVE to do it. Once you get past 20, kids really get the hang of it quickly.

3. A Basic Understanding of Fractions

This is not completely necessary, but many math curriculums want kids to understand sayings like “half past” or “quarter till.”

If your child doesn’t already have a basic understanding of fractions, that will obviously be difficult to teach while also telling time. Depending on your child’s strengths, consider teaching this part of time 6 months to a year later.

How Most Math Curriculums Teach Kids to Tell Time

As you can tell from my curriculum reviews, we have gone through a lot of math curriculum during our homeschooling years. But I have noticed that most of them tend to teach telling time in the same way. 

The child is taught to recognize the top of the hour first through matching, labeling, or even drawing hands on the clock.

Then the child is taught to recognize time marks like 3:15, 3:30, and 3:45, always carefully skip counting by 5s to find out where that minute hand is.

Once this is mastered, the child will start to count by 1’s to find more precise times like 3:28. 

Why Teaching Time in This Way Does Not Work

broken analog clock

The huge disconnect that your child is having during this process is that the focus is ALL on the minute hand. They are looking at a worksheet or a toy clock and not being taught that on a real clock the HOUR HAND MOVES.

This becomes very clear when your child is asked to read a time like 3:50. They will say it’s 4:50 and get very frustrated when you say it’s actually 3:50. To them, the hour hand is clearly pointing at the 4. What is going on here?!

Then you have to back track and try to explain that actually that sneaky hour hand has been moving while they’ve been carefully watching the minute hand this whole time. If they want to learn to tell time on a real analog clock, that hour hand is just as important, if not more important to learn.

The Easy Way to Teach Your Child to Tell Time

easy street

From the very beginning, use a color coded clock to teach your child to tell time. 

Ignore the minute hand and focus on only the hour hand.

Tell your child that each hour has it’s own “room.” The hour has not changed until the hour hand has passed out of that “room.”

These rooms are much easier to understand and read when you have a color coded clock! (Psst! I have some examples of color coded clocks below)

Now focus on mastering knowing what the hour is. Continue to ignore the minute hand until later. 

Use your color coded clock, time worksheets, workbooks, and real clocks to drill your kid on what the hour hand is pointing at.

Once they have that skill down pat – THEN introduce the minute hand. 

Color Coded Clocks for Teaching Kids to Tell Time

When I first started teaching time in my homeschool 5 years ago, I actually printed off a clock worksheet and colored it myself!

This kinda worked, but had a number of flaws. Blessedly, you can buy clocks now for your homeschool or classroom that are much more effective and durable.

1.Teacher’s Choice Writable Dry Erase Learning Clock

We are using this dry erase learning clock in our homeschool right now and my second grader loves it! 

It is a simple dry erase board with movable clock hands. My kid likes to move the hands on the clock to match her worksheet and then write the answer underneath with the included marker.

I really like this hands on math manipulative for it’s bright colors, reasonable price, and kid friendly design. The only thing I don’t like is that it doesn’t have an hour hand that moves when the minute hand moves. You have to move BOTH hands to adjust the time. 

If you are familiar with the very popular learning resources manipulative clock, you know what I mean.

2. Clocktopus Learning Clock

The Clocktopus Learning Clock will be arriving in my homeschool soon, and I really wish I had it with my 1st child. It is a big step up from the Teacher’s Choice Dry Erase Clock. 

Why?

I really like that it is a functioning clock! It can hang it on the wall, but I can also handle it during lessons and use it to show my kids the “room” that the hour hand is in as I move the minute hand.

I also love that it shows those tricky terms of “Half past,” “Quarter to,” and “Quarter past.”

These fraction type sayings can be tricky and this clock makes it very easy to explain and reinforce!

More Tips for Teaching Kids to Tell Time

analog clock with heart

There is more that you can do to help your kid learn to read analog clocks that goes beyond manipulatives and math worksheets. 

1. Cover Your Digital Clocks

I noticed that there are digital clocks all over our house. Everything from the cable box, to the microwave, to the oven has a digital clock on it! 

Take some post its and cover those clocks up, so your kid doesn’t have that crutch around. 

2. Buy an Analog Clock

So obviously you need to know what time it is! Purchase a reasonably priced analog clock (definitely consider the Clocktopus clock I was talking about earlier!) so that you and your kid can still tell what time it is.

Once or twice a day, casually ask your kid what time it is. Allow them to check their answer by lifting up the post it on one of the digital clocks. 

3. Get an Analog Watch for Your Kid

Once your kid is comfortable telling time, consider buying them an analog watch to wear!

They will be so proud to show off their time reading skills for anyone who asks!

It will also help them to continue to solidify this skill – as opposed to forgetting it by the time 3rd grade rolls around.

4. Point Out Analog Clocks Around You

As you are out and about, be sure to point out any and all analog clocks that you come across.

Showing your child that this is s real skill that applies to every day life is a great way to motivate them!

Teaching Your Kid to Tell Time Recap

Teaching your kid to read a wall clock or analog clock does not have to be frustrating!

With the right tools and the right approach, it can actually be really fun to do with your kid. 

Remember to be patient, keep your eye on the hour hand “room,” and practice the skill in real life as much as possible!

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