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Sometime around the age of five, your child will begin to show signs they are ready learn to tell time. They may ask when lunch or a favourite television show is, or how long they have to nap. This indicates they are ready to learn the concept of time. However, you should wait to start the actual process of teaching your child to tell time until they are ready. They should know their numbers, be able to count to sixty, and understand simple addition and subtraction concepts. Without this knowledge, attempts to teach time telling can result in frustration and failure.

To help your child understand the concept of time, using a simple kitchen timer is a good first step. Set the timer first for just a minute and have your child count to seconds to sixty. They may need to do this several times to reach the point where they are reaching sixty as the timer goes off. Then do the same for a minute. All you are trying to do at this point is introduce the concept of time.

To get ready to teach your child how to tell time, purchase a wall clock with a large numbers and both hour and second hands. It is a good idea to place the clock on the wall quite a while before you are going to teach your child to tell time, so that they get used to seeing it, and, perhaps, become interested in learning how to tell time. Their bedroom wall is a good idea. Even before you begin to teach your child how to tell time, you can look at the clock when it is time to get up or go to bed and mention the time.

When you begin formally teaching your child to tell time, start by having your child watch the second hand and count to sixty. Explain that the second hand is shorter than the hour hand, and that this matches the fact that a second is shorter than an hour. Do not rush, but give them some time to understand the “sixty seconds equals a minute” concept. When you think they are ready, explain that sixty minutes equal one hour. Some children may begin to ask what time it is while looking at the clock.

Use everyday activities to emphasise time, such as how long is a commercial, how long it takes for traffic lights to change, and setting the number of minutes on the microwave. You will be surprised how many times a day that time is a factor and you can use it as a teachable moment. You can also begin mentioning time as it relates to certain activities while you point to the clock. For example, “It is almost 12:00; time for lunch,” or “We will have dinner at 6:00. Can you show me 6:00 on the clock?”

A few other activities that will help you teach your child to tell time are:

  • Creating a numbered clock with a paper plate
  • Downloading clock exercises to complete or color from the internet
  • Finding interactive exercises on telling time on the internet
  • Reading children’s books about time

One of the most important things to remember is that you do not need to rush. Eventually, your child will need to understand time, and that need can drive their desire to learn how to tell time. In addition, they will have lessons in telling time at school.  Relax, provide learning opportunities, and soon your child will be ready for their first watch.

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