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Tick Tock: Teaching Kids About Time

Tick Tock: Teaching Kids About Time

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Updated on Jul 9, 2013

Admit it. When she was small, you were secretly glad she couldn’t tell time.  We’ve all announced “It’s bedtime!” even when the clock didn’t necessarily agree.  But at some point, probably after 23 versions of "How many more minutes until we are there?", we start to wish our kids had a better concept of time. 

Experts agree that even before your child learns to read the hands on a clock, he should have a basic understanding of time and how we measure it.

“The concept of past and future is a beginning sense of time for children,” says Alison Urs, kindergarten teacher in Lexington, Kentucky.  “Many children use the terms yesterday to refer to events that have taken place in the past and tomorrow for events that will take place in the future.  Most children do not use these terms correctly until kindergarten.”

To help your child understand the notion of time, you can begin at a young age to illustrate its measurement tools.

  • Make a list of favorite activities and then place them in the appropriate category: one second, one minute, or one hour.
  • Compare lengths of time to driving distances: "We will stay at the party for one hour. That’s about as long as it takes us to drive to the zoo."
  • Make a chart with daily schedules: "At 12:00 we will have lunch.  At 3:00 we’ll leave for baseball practice."
  • Challenge your child to pick up his room within a certain amount of time. Get him thinking about time by asking him how many minutes he needs to get the blocks on the shelf.  "Could you fold all the shirts and put them in the drawer in ten seconds?"
  • Make paper chains to count down the days until an upcoming vacation or holiday.  Try to remove the link at the same time each day to illustrate the notion of a 24 hour day.

Watches are fun for kids and can be a great way to get them excited about time.  But what about the notion that kids shouldn’t own a digital watch until they can read a traditional clock first?

“Learning how to read a digital clock first is fine,” insists Pat Taylor, first grade teacher in Houston, Texas.  “It actually makes sense for a child to understand the numerical way to write 3:30 before she learns how the hands on a clock can show the same thing.”

Consider introducing the clock by relating it to your daily schedule.  When the big hand touches the 6, we will be leaving for dance class.  Many parents find success by taking photos of the clock showing various times, labeled with what the family will be doing at that time.  Tape these pictures on the wall next to the clock.

Most teachers agree that when you’re ready to work on reading clock faces with your child, it helps if she is able to skip count by fives.  Starting with the o’clocks and going to half-pasts, seems to be the way to go. 

Children’s books can be a great way to practice time at home with your child.  Some favorites are:

  • The Grouchy Ladybug by Eric Carle
  • Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper
  • Clocks and More Clocks by Pat Hutchins

By reading and playing to make time-telling fun, you're ensuring that your child will be telling time in no time!

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