How to teach time-telling skills?


Time-telling is an advanced skill that requires the comprehension of time passing and the skills of numeracy.

Time-telling is an important life skill that is commonly taught to children when they reach 7-8 years of age. The rationale behind why we teach this is obvious - communicating information with other parties and following schedules forms the basis for more complex skills like time management. More fundamentally, of course, is the importance of the ability of a child to orientate himself within the hours of the day, days of the months, and months of the years. In this article, we hope to provide useful tips on how to introduce and practise time-telling skills on an analogue clock to a child who is new to it.


Incorporate into daily routine along with visuals

Firstly, be sure to provide verbal input of time in their daily lives. Make use of significant timings in the day like breakfast, lunch and dinner time, or something that they look forward to, for example, TV time at 4pm every day. Visual timetables or timelines placed somewhere prominent would be helpful.


Get them to be familiar with general concepts like morning, noon, afternoon, evening, and night times. Additionally, use ‘blocks’ of time like half an hour and one hour to give them a mental estimate. Let your child know when activities occur during specific times of the day— examples include "We eat breakfast in the morning," or "We go to bed at night," to assist your child in learning these designated time blocks. It would be even more effective to quiz them every now and then! Questions like “What time of the day do we have our dinner?” could be asked. If the child struggles with that, create visual tools with images of day time vs night time on flashcards, with words “Breakfast/ Lunch/ Dinner” for them to match and draw the connection.


Introduce broad concepts before associating with numbers

Things that you can start teaching at a young age are broader concepts without having to immediately dive into numbers that might be overwhelming. This will help your child get a feel for what time increments mean before they pick up the association between the feeling of passing time vs their numerical counterparts. Make a habit of announcing how long certain events will take, for example, if they request for “one more minute” when watching Youtube, or other smaller chunks of an hour like 1, 5 or 15 minutes, and announce when they're over. You may find that using a stopwatch, alarm, or kitchen timer with prominent hands/ numbers that are constantly moving, can help them understand better. Time some of your child's favorite activities to help him or her personally connect with this.


Yes, time-telling is a math skill!

Ensure that your child has mastered the following prerequisites:

Able to recognise/label 2 digit numbers

Able to count 1 to 60

Able to count in multiples of 5


Next, ensure that they are very sure which is the hour hand and minute hand. The child has to also understand which unit of time is “smaller”, for example the concept of 60 minutes making up an hour and 24 hours in a day. Do not rush into it if you are not sure about how well they understand it.


Avoid figures of speech related to time

To avoid confusion while teaching time, choose your words carefully while you're around your child. Relying on figurative expressions, like "Can you give me a minute?" or "Just a second", may produce inaccurate expectations for some children and inadvertently make learning time more difficult for someone who has only recently gotten their head around the concept. Remember that time is a very complex and intangible idea, especially to one so young. Once your child has successfully mastered reading a clock, you can reintroduce him or her to these figures of speech.


Create a clock together

Let your child draw one out themselves! This form of active learning may help them a lot more than passive learning where they are just taught to read and asked to tell time from a clock that has already been provided. It would be even better if you can laminate it so that it is reusable, and you can simply use a whiteboard marker to draw on it for them to tell the time, or give them a time and let them draw the minute/hour hand themselves.


In conclusion, time-telling is an advanced skill that requires the comprehension of time passing and the skills of numeracy. Ensuring that they have mastered the prerequisites will help significantly and give them more confidence when learning this new skill. Early exposure to general ideas like dinner time, playtime and the idea of having morning/noon/night in a day will be useful when the child reaches a later stage.


Written by Claudie.


© HEALIS AUTISM CENTRE. All Rights Reserved 2018.

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