Fundamental Lessons for Telling the Time

Use worksheets and other aids to help children learn time telling

Young girl learning to read the time
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Children usually learn to tell time by first or second grade. The concept is abstract and takes some fundamental instruction before children can grasp the concept. You can use several worksheets to help children learn how to represent time on a clock and how to decipher the time on analog and digital clocks.

The Fundamentals

The concept of time may take some time to grasp. But, if you use a methodical approach to explaining how to tell what time it is, your students can pick it up with some practice.

24 Hours in a Day

The first thing that will help young students learn about time is if you explain to them that there are 24 hours in a day. Explain that the clock divides the day into two halves of 12 hours each. And, within each hour, there are 60 minutes. 

For an example, you can explain how there is an 8 o'clock in the morning, like when children are getting ready for school, and an 8 o'clock at night, usually associated with bedtime. Show the students what a clock looks like when it is 8 o'clock with a plastic clock or another teaching aid. Ask the children what the clock looks like. Ask them what they notice about the clock. 

Hands on a Clock

Explain to children that a clock has a face and two main hands. The teacher should demonstrate that the smaller hand represents the hour of the day while the larger hand represents the minutes within that hour. Some students may have already grasped the concept of skip counting by 5s, which should make it easier for children to understand the concept of each number on the clock representing 5-minute increments.

Explain how 12 at the top of the clock is both the beginning and end of the hour and how it represents ":00." Then, have the class count out the subsequent numbers on the clock, by skip counting by 5s, from 1 through 11. Explain how the smaller hash marks between numbers on the clock are minutes. 

Go back to the example of 8 o'clock. Explain how "o'clock" means zero minutes or :00. Usually, the best progression for teaching children to tell time is to start in larger increments, like start with children only identifying the hour, then move to the half-hour, then the quarter hour, and then intervals of 5 minutes. 

Worksheets for Learning Time

Once students understand that the small hour hand represents the 12-hour cycle and the minute hand points to 60 unique minutes around the clock face, they can begin practicing these skills by attempting to tell the time on a variety of clock worksheets.

Other Teaching Aids

Engaging multiple senses in learning helps support understanding and providing manipulatives and hands-on experiences enhance the learning experience.

There are many plastic-type clocks that are available to help children learn time concepts. If you can't find mini plastic clocks, have your students make paper clocks using a butterfly clip. When a child has a clock to manipulate, you can then ask them to show you various times. Or you can show them the digital time and ask them to show you what it looks like on an analog clock.

Incorporate word problems into the exercises, such as it is now 2 o'clock, what time will it be in a half an hour.