Understanding time is a fundamental milestone for children. It helps them understand the past, present and future. It also lets them develop a sense of routine, which is critical to creating harmony in your son’s or daughter’s life.
Are you ready to find out how to teach kids about time? Keep reading to learn what you can do, even from an early age, to help your child tell the time. There are also a few games included at the end of this article that can help make telling time more fun.
Step 1: Start Simple
Like anything that a child learns, telling the time is a process. Before they can even grasp the idea of what the numbers on a clock might mean, they need to relate it to sequences of events. With Benni, my wife and I made it a point to talk about ‘when’ we were going to do things. For example, if we were going to the park ‘later today,’ Benni would know that we were going to the park before we went to bed that night.
By describing the time in segments like “yesterday”, “now” and “tomorrow” it teaches kids the basic concept of time. It helps them learn what time describes and put things in a linear, chronological order.
Step 2: Use a Routine
Most parents have some type of routine for their child. By establishing routines for the activities that your child does throughout the day, it also helps develop a sense of time. For example, your toddler might know that they play in their room for a little bit after lunch and then take a nap.
I have also discussed the importance of routine in the context of getting your toddler asleep in the evening in another article here.
Step 3: Use Time-Related Vocabulary
Familiarizing your child with words like “o’clock” or “minutes” can also help them grasp what time is. Use the vocabulary with something that is familiar, like the routines. For example, “We are leaving the park in ten minutes” or “Snack time is at 2 o’clock”.
Step 4: Skip the Digital Clocks And Visualize Time
Once your child can read numbers, it can be tempting to teach them about time using an easy-to-read digital clock. Unfortunately, this creates an obstacle that you will have to overcome in the future. Your child may also be more stubborn about learning to read the analog clock since they already can read the easier version.
One thing that digital clocks and timer can simply not communicate is the concept of “progress” and “amount of time”. They show time in the very abstract “language” of numbers.
An analog clock, watch or timer, on the other hand, shows how time progresses by moving physical pointers. It is kind of an ever-changing image, and kid’s (even toddler’s) brains can work with that much, much better than with bare numbers.
One timer that does this particularly well is the Time Timer Plus. A timer that visualizes the amount of time that is remaining until the timer is up by simply showing a red disc. The more red there is, the more time is remaining. My wife and I use this timer in all sorts of situations to teach Benni about time. And he can work with this representation of time VERY well! If this sounds interesting to you, please make sure to read my full review of the Time Timer Plus here.
Step 5: Telling Time 101 – Teach Hours First
Until this point, we have discussed how you can teach your kid about the basic concept of time. What time feels like, how time goes together with daily routine and how you can teach your kid about a certain amount of time by using analog clocks and timers.
But really telling the time is a different story. Before you can even think about teaching how to tell the time, your child has to be able to read numbers. Getting up to twelve is okay for teaching hours—but they will need to count up to sixty once it is time to learn minutes. If they have reached this milestone and have grasped the concept of past, present and future, they may be ready to learn about the different parts of time.
Once your child has a grasp on time, it is important to teach hours first and then minutes. If you break it down into minutes before your child understands hours, it can be more difficult for them to learn.
One of the best ways to teach hours is to make (or buy) a large clock with moving hands (again: avoid digital ones here). Help your child cut out pictures that correlate to the hours on the clock and what they are doing in their routine. For example, place a picture of carrots and ranch dressing or a banana next to the two if you have snack time at 2 o’clock.
This will help your kid to connect the meaning of time with what they do at that time throughout the day. And it also helps them to further develop a day-to-day routine!
Step 6: Telling Time 102 – Then Teach Minutes
Once you are ready to teach your child about minutes, be sure that they can count by fives. As they learn to identify the different increments with the numbers on the clock, they will be able to tell time more easily. After they have grasped the concept of each number representing five minutes, you will be able to break it down into one-minute intervals.
If counting to sixty is really hard, you could also add in another step where you teach your kids about the idea of “quarter past”, “half past” and “quarter to”. For some kids, this may work better than going to the exact number of minutes right away.
Here is a fun video I found on YouTube that you can watch together with your kid to teach them how to tell time.
Step 7: Fun Games to Teach Your Kid to Tell Time
Now for the fun part: The best way to learn a new skill is through fun and play. Let’s see how we can bring fun to the idea of how to teach kids about time.
Game-Idea 1: Give the Numbers Secret Identities
One of the most difficult concepts for children to grasp is that the numbers represent the hours and the minutes and that each has a different number associated with it. For example, the number two represents 2 o’clock, as well as 10 minutes after the hour.
Create a clock with “secret identities” by making flaps that can be opened to reveal the minute increments under the main numerals.
Game-Idea 2: Let Them Plan a Segment of Their Day
As your child learns how long each segment of time is, let them decide how long they are going to eat lunch or play. Guide them in setting up activities for the day. Then, set a timer for each of them and when it goes off, move to the next activity.
While life would certainly be more carefree without time, it is a necessary part of sticking to a daily schedule. By teaching your child to tell time at a young age, you are giving them the tools they need to excel in other areas as well. Time is a complex topic and should be taught gradually. By making learning fun and correlating it to the activities of your child’s life, learning time can be enjoyable rather than a hassle.
What is your favorite way to teach your kids or grandkids about time? Do you have a favorite game, book, toy or other “tool” that you used and that I forgot about? Please let me know in the comments below.
For now, I wish you tons of fun and good luck as you teach your little ones about how to tell time!
Thanks for reading!
P.S.: Did you ever ask yourself how to put an end to all those exhausting power struggles that can stand between our kids and us as moms or dads? If so, then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of “Positive Parenting Solutions” HERE. You won’t regret it! I promise!!!