20 May 2013 06:38 AM

Learning to Tell Time Helps Kids' Math Skills

by rbavaria

There are lots of important “firsts” in kids’ lives, markers that prove to themselves and others that they’re growing up – first day of kindergarten, first time tying their shoes, first independent brushing their teeth, losing their first baby tooth, having their first overnight at a friend’s house – and telling time surely is one of them.


Learning to tell time is one of the major skills of kindergarten and first grade classes.  I get a kick out of watching kids as they eventually get it.  As they figure out what those moving hands are all about.  How the concept of time begins to take shape in their little brains.  As they start to recognize how long different time segments “feel.”


 “Let’s take a break from cleaning up our room in one minute.” 


“We can eat the cookies in five minutes, after they cool.”


 “Our favorite cartoon show is on in fifteen minutes.” 


“Yay! Grandma will be here in one hour!”


Their brains are growing; abstract ideas like time take a while for them to understand.  That’s why learning to tell time makes them feel so “grown up” when they finally master it.


My primary school teacher friends have shared with me some ways to help children learn to tell time and, as a special bonus, improve their new math skills.  They swear by them.  Here’s what they tell me. 


1.    Use a large clock with easily moveable hands.  Hands-on learning, as every parent and teacher knows, works best.  “Let me try!  Can I touch?”  Teachers call the teaching clocks in their kindergarten classes “Judy Clocks.”  No one can tell me why – the inventor’s name was Judy, his daughter’s name was Judy, who knows?  Anyway, Judy Clocks are colorful, plastic, sturdy, and easily maneuvered.

2.    Show that the short hand is the hour hand.  You’ll find yourself saying, “No, honey, it doesn’t make sense that the hour hand is shorter than the minute hand.”  I’ve tried to explain that it’s shorter because it moves slower.  Sometimes they buy that.

3.    Show that the long hand is the minute hand.  The minute hand goes faster than the hour hand because a minute is faster than an hour.  Later, when they’re ready to learn about the second hand, you can point out that it’s the fastest one. 

4.    Make a clock out of a paper plate.  Fold it in half and then in half again.  Use the four creases to show where the twelve, three, six, and nine go.  Then fill in the other hours.  Count to twelve with them.  Show where the minutes fit between the hour numbers.  I’ve watched teachers and kids draw lines from the center out to each hour number.  Then they color each “time slice” a different color.  Kids love to color, and the rainbow slices help kids visualize five minutes of the minute hand and one hour of the hour hand.  They use colorful construction paper for the hands, on which they print “hour” and “minute” and attach to the middle of the plate with a brad.

5.    Count the minutes, hours.  “Let’s count twenty minutes and point how the minute hand goes.”  “Let’s count three hours and point how the hour hand goes.”  Quiz each other.  “Move the hands to twenty minutes to three.”  “The minute hand is on the ten, the hour hand is on the eleven.  What time is it?”  When you talk about time, let them experience it.  For example, count off, “We can play for five more minutes . . . four more minutes . . . three more minutes . . .”   

6.    Kids learn to count to sixty.  Count with them.  Let them show off.  All the way to sixty!

7.    They learn to count by five.  Counting each number on the clock shows five minutes.  Sing the five-times-table together.

8.      They learn fractions.  Eventually they’ll be able to understand easy fractions.  “It’s quarter to five.”  “It’s half past seven.”

9.      They learn an awareness of time.  “What can we do in one minute?  In five minutes?  In a quarter of an hour?”  Make a chart of their important times: play time, snack time, learning time, Mommy-comes-home-from-work-time, bedtime.

10.  They learn the concepts of clockwise and counterclockwise.  Give them an awareness of the direction of the clock’s hands.  It’s smart to start with analog clocks; eventually you can introduce them to digital time, which may be easier for adults but doesn’t have the easy-learning visual advantages for kids.


Keep it all casual.  Play time-telling games.  Talk about time in other contexts than just teaching them about telling time.  “We have to pick up Daddy in four minutes.  Make sure you’re ready, please.” 





5/23/2013 10:01:59 AM

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