Skip to main content

How to teach your child to tell time

Helping children learn to tell time is a rite of passage. It helps them to be more self-sufficient and ensures that they have a better understanding of what is happening during their day. Time is a conceptual thing, so it may take some creativity to help them process it.

Here are a few unique and effective ways to teach children concepts of time so they can understand once and for all how that pesky wall clock or watch works.

Is your child ready?

One of the most significant factors is your child’s age. If they’re too young, trying to teach a lesson in time will only result in frustration. Before the age of 5, children may not be able to conceptualize time at all, so you should work on the concept of routine to help prepare them.

Build markers throughout the day that tie critical pieces of time to specific activities. Children can memorize that when both hands are pointing up — the 12 marker — lunchtime happens. Stick with only a handful of simple activities.

How to teach your child to tell time

Between the ages of 5 and 6, children are better able to understand what’s happening with that clock. They can read the hour markers and begin to track the clock throughout the day.

As children progress through elementary school or the equivalent, they learn how many minutes and seconds comprise the clock and read all three hands as they move. Older elementary kids can compare clocks and understand that the time corresponds to different spaces of the day.

The fundamentals of time

That’s not as conceptual as it may sound. Here are the fundamentals to check off the list before delving fully into reading a clock.

  • Count to 60. Your child must be able to count fluidly to 60 before understanding the different elements of the clock.
  • Count in increments. Next, your child must be comfortable with counting in appropriate increments. Start with elements of 10 and move to fives.
  • Introduce time periods. First, children must understand how the day transitions in general terms. Help them understand things like “morning” and “afternoon.” Help them associate activities with certain times of the day. When do we eat breakfast? Morning. This builds the foundation of time based on the clock.
How to teach your child to tell time
StoryTime Studio/Shutterstock

Introducing the clock itself

When your child is comfortable with all those things, it’s time to begin associating that knowledge with the clock itself.

  • Start with the hour hand. The simplest and slowest part of the clock gives your child the chance to connect numbers to certain parts of the day. If you always eat lunch at noon, your child can notice the activity with the hour hand.
  • Model how to read the clock. Use simple language at lunchtime. “The little hand is pointing to 12. I know that it is 12 o’clock. Time for lunch!”
  • Introduce the minute hand. When your child can comfortably identify the hours, introduce the concept of the minute hand. Remind your child that there are 60 minutes in one hour and model reading the clock. We are finished with lunch. It is 12:30!
  • Be patient helping children multiply by five. When the long hand points to the one, that actually means five. Pointing to six means 30. This can take time and patience.
  • Encourage them to practice regularly and guide them as they keep learning. Eventually, the clock will begin to make sense, and they’ll be able to tell time confidently.

Remember to make it concrete

Time is hard to visualize and understand without concrete meaning. Just introducing the numbers of the clock isn’t going to help children understand. Instead, they need to be able to connect those hours to specific activities or things they can see.

For example, if your child is an early riser, they may like to see that the hour hand points to the six when the sun rises. Lunchtime is also a great thing to tie to the clock. Naptime, bedtime, sunset, dinner, snacks, and even when parents come home — all these activities help a child begin to understand the passage of time.

Above all, remember your patience

Children won’t learn to follow the clock overnight. It can take months of work to help your child fully understand what we mean when time passes and to build their understanding of the clock. Work on the fundamentals and help your child along the way.

Having patience will encourage your child to keep trying, and soon, your child will have the confidence he or she needs to read the clock without you. Just keep trying and give your child all the tools to understand the time and read that analog clock without fear.

Editors' Recommendations

Does your baby sleep with their mouth open? What to know about mouth breathing in babies
Mouth breathing in babies could be an indicator of mild to serious health concerns
Baby sleeping in a bed with their mouth open

Your adorable sleeping baby is so sweet to watch, but how they sleep can also be an indicator of a more serious issue, like if your baby sleeps with their mouth open. Mouth breathing in babies can be a warning sign for certain health issues like sleep apnea. If your baby sleeps with their mouth open, you'll want to bring it up with your baby's pediatrician.
There are a few potential causes of mouth breathing in babies and different ways to resolve each one. It's important to get the correct information about mouth breathing in babies and to bring it to the attention of your pediatrician. You can then take any necessary steps so you and your baby can both sleep more soundly.

What causes mouth breathing in babies?
There are a few different reasons a baby may breathe through their mouth while they are sleeping. Some are temporary reasons that aren't red flags while other causes mean you'll want to follow up with your pediatrician.
Babies don't naturally breathe through their mouths while asleep. If there is an obstruction to a newborn baby's nose, they would be more likely to wake up rather than switch to mouth breathing because of their facial anatomy at that stage of development.
First, if your baby has a stuffed-up nose from a cold or allergies, they won't have another option but to breathe through the mouth until the nose opens back up. Usually, a baby will go right back to sleeping with a closed mouth once the congestion clears. Sometimes, mouth breathing becomes a habit after a cold.
Another reason for mouth breathing is a condition called sleep apnea, in which the upper airway is obstructed. Mouth breathing during sleep is one symptom of sleep apnea in addition to snoring, pauses in breathing during sleep, and restless sleep. While sleep apnea in adults usually causes them to be tired during the day and to gain weight, in children it more often causes them to have behavioral problems and to get enlarged tonsils or adenoids. The enlarged tonsils or adenoids may also be the cause of sleep apnea.
Risk factors for pediatric obstructive sleep apnea include obesity, Down syndrome, abnormalities in the skull or face, cerebral palsy, sickle cell disease, neuromuscular disease, a history of low birth weight, and a family history of obstructive sleep apnea. Your baby may have also been born with a deviated septum, which is an abnormality in the cartilage and bone that separates the nostrils. This can lead to trouble breathing through the nose when asleep.

Read more
When do babies start talking? Should you be concerned if yours isn’t?
Learn why baby babbling is music to a parent's ears
Father talking to his infant child

Baby's first year is such an exciting time. As new parents, we are amazed at all those milestones, like rolling over and baby's first smile. One milestone many parents anxiously await is baby's first words. Will it be "mama" or "dada?" The more important question, though, may be, "When do babies start talking?"

A baby' speech development actually begins at birth. The sounds they hear, including their parents, talking is a vital step in speech development. So, when should your baby be saying those exciting first words, and should you be worried if yours isn't talking yet?
When do babies start talking?
As with all of those memorable milestones, when a baby begins to talk falls within a range. Most babies will say that treasured first word somewhere between 12 and 18 months. Once that first word comes out, it won't be long before baby is putting small words together like "up ma."

Read more
Are you a helicopter mom? Here’s how to tell and what to do about it
Is being a helicopter parent so bad? Here's how to tell if you're too overbearing
Mom encouraging baby to crawl

It's hard out there for parents these days. It seems that no matter how you parent, someone on the internet will have something to say about it, especially if you're a mom. For some reason, dads don't face nearly as much judgment about how they raise their kids as mothers do. After all, terms like silky mom, tiger mom, and crunchy mom, are now common terms used to describe different parenting methods, but the helicopter mom is the OG of these parenting styles.

What is helicopter parenting?
Helicopter parenting became a widely used term in the 1990s, and describes overprotective parents who hover over their children, hence the term "helicopter." Authors Foster Cline and Jim Fay popularized the term in their book Parenting with Love and Logic, writing that helicopter parents, "hover over and then rescue their children whenever trouble arises." They added that "they're forever running lunches, permission slips, band instruments, and homework assignments to school."
You may also recognize the helicopter parent on the playground as they hover over their child, constantly monitoring how they play and who they play with. Helicopter parents try to shield their children from any potential conflict or struggle, which can be understandable but also detrimental to a child's personal development.

Read more