Tick, tock, it’s learning o’clock

5 - 11 years

In early primary school, your child will learn to tell the time from an analogue clock (a clock with moving hands). Here are some ways you can help them learn to tell the time:

Talk about the time all the time

When your child is learning to tell the time, try to talk about the time with your child as much as possible. For instance, you can say, ‘It’s 12 o’clock so it must be lunchtime’, and ‘It’s three o’clock now and your swimming lesson is at four o’clock, so we have an hour to get there.’  As your child develops their understanding of telling the time, you can try asking them to solve simple time problems, for example, ‘This recipe takes about 45 minutes to make. We are having dinner at 6.30 pm, so what time do we have to start cooking to make dinner on time?’

Count to 60

Practise counting to 60 with your child—both forwards and backwards. The more comfortable your child is with counting to 60, the easier it will be for them to understand and recognise the minutes in an hour.

Counting in fives—skip counting

Encourage your child to practise counting by fives with you. Being able to count by fives quickly makes it much easier to learn how to read an analogue clock.

The secret life of numbers

An analogue clock uses two numbering systems—one-to-12 for hours and one-to-60 for minutes. The numbers have two meanings—‘three’ can represent ‘three o’clock’ or ‘15 minutes’, depending on the hand that is pointing to it. This can be a very difficult concept for younger children. You can help your child to understand it by talking about the numbers having a secret identity—like superheroes. For example, ‘That six is hiding something. Point the minute hand at it to reveal its secret identity: it’s 30!’

Make your own clock

Try making a simple clock with your child. Get your child to fold a paper plate into four sections (in half, then half again), and then unfold it. The folds in the plate should show the centre point (where the two folds cross) and the four points for each quarter of the circle. Ask your child to draw the face of clock on the paper plate—the folds will make it clear where the 12, three, six, and nine should be. Point out that the 12 is opposite the six, and the three is opposite the nine. Get your child to fill in both the real (hour) numbers on the clock and their secret identities (the minute numbers). You can use different coloured pencils to make the hands of the clock and practise telling the time with your child.

Use a real clock

Take the batteries out of a wall clock and encourage your child to move the hands. Talk to them about how the big hand represents the minutes and the little hand is the hour. Once your child has mastered this, move onto discussion about how minutes between the numbers 12 and six are referred to as ‘past’ and those between the numbers six and 12 are ‘to’ the hour.

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Last modified
18 February 2020