Telling Time is Important!

Steampunk-Gears-of-Time-Wall-ClockThe Importance of Learning to Tell Time

One of the recurring issues that I am noticing when evaluating students is that they are unable to tell time on an analog clock. Let this sink in a little. Without a digital interface, many kids cannot tell you the time!

Blame cell phones and DVRs, blame microwaves, thermostats, ovens, and computers. A developing trend among children is that they cannot tell time on a wall clock. Am I the only one who finds this disturbing?

One reason this is happening is that schools are no longer required to teach kids to tell time. It has been removed from the curriculum. Since so many other subjects have been piled on to the curriculum, you can hardly blame teachers for skipping over anything that is not required. Yet, children need to know how to tell time. Telling time is important!

There will always be wall clocks. Even if there are always cell phones, not being able to read a wall clock is somewhat akin to being in a foreign country and not being able to read one of the signs. It creates a disparity among people who know what something says, and people who do not know. I want everyone’s children to be “in the know.” Even if I am just being a cranky old late adopter, there is a second problem that comes with not knowing how to tell time on an analog clock.

Not knowing how to calculate elapsed time.

Increasingly, in my work assessing children, they are unable to determine elapsed time. Here is an example:

“if I have to be at work at 8AM and work until 4:30PM, how long did I work?”

Now surely, most of us can quickly calculate this answer. But even intellectually average high school students who are academically competent in many other areas, often cannot answer these questions. They rely on digital clocks to know the time and have not learned time concepts. Understanding time concepts is extremely important.

So it is the parent’s responsibility to teach these critical concepts. Let’s start with telling time itself. How should you teach this?

  1. Get a wall clock
  2. Help the child see that the clock can be divided into 30 minute halves
  3. Help the child see that the clock can be divided into 4-15 minute quarters
  4. Ask the child to count how many 5 minute intervals there are
  5. Have the child count by fives, to get around the clock
  6. Teach “little hand” (shows us the hour), “big hand” (show us the minutes)
  7. Practice setting the clock to a time and having the child tell you what it is
  8. Give the child a time (2:01, 12:35, 4:15, 8:22, etc) and have them draw it on a blank clock face
  9. Explain time telling language– “quarter to, half past, noon, midnight, quarter after”
  10. Take your child to the bank and ask them to tell you what time it is. No cell phones, no cheating!

I would love to hear your thoughts, successes, failures, comments, and questions in the comment section below. I will happily respond and help trouble shoot with any issues that arise.


Donna B. Amberman of Capital District School Psychology specializes in independent evaluations, child development, ADHD & second opinions in Albany, Troy, & Saratoga, NY.
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