How to Teach your Child to tell Time

Telling time is a very important skill for all children to learn.  Before beginning to work on this concept, it is good idea to first make sure that your child has an understanding of time in general. This means that your child should comprehend information such as 9:00am is in the morning and that 12:00pm is around lunch time.  From there you can progress to introducing a digital clock and finally to an analog clock.  It will require effort and patience to teach your child how to tell time, but he or she will thank you in the end.

Understanding Time

This is an important first step as it will help the learning process if time has a meaning to your child instead of just being random numbers.  To gauge his or her abilities, you will want to ask questions like: “What do we do at 9 in the morning?”  If your child answers: “We eat lunch,” then you know that you have to work on this skill.  This is easy to teach as you just need to start saying what time it is when you do certain things like when you wake up, go to bed, go to school, or eat breakfast, lunch or dinner.  Once your child understands this concept, you are ready to move on. 

Start with Digital

You can start teaching to tell time with a digital clock.  This is a relatively easy concept to grasp and learning it quickly will boost your child’s confidence before tackling the harder task of learning how to read a clock with hands.


You should make sure that your child can count by fives before beginning.  Without this skill, teaching time will be a very frustrating experience. 

Introduce the Clock

Before teaching anything about an analog clock, you will want to give your child a little time to look at one and make observations.  You should point out the 12 numbers and also describe each of the hands: the hour hand, the minute hand, and the second hand.  It is important that your child knows exactly which hand is which before proceeding.


A good next step in learning to read an analog clock is to introduce the concept of sixty seconds in a minute and also sixty minutes in an hour.  You could demonstrate this by counting to sixty along with a clock that has a second hand; making sure to show how the minute hand has moved after sixty seconds.  You can then use either a real clock, paper clock, or toy clock to count the minutes on this clock one at a time and then five at a time to show that it adds up to 60 both ways.

Telling Time

After introducing how many seconds are in a minute and how many minutes are in an hour, you will want to begin practicing how to tell the time when it is on the hour.  It will be easier if your child has a firm grasp on how to tell when it is 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 3 o’clock, and so on before needing to worry about the minute hand.  You should explain how we count up to 12 o’clock and then start over again with 1 o’clock.

Once this skill is mastered, you will move on to working on how to tell the quarter hours like 1:15, 1:30, and 1:45.  Next, you will move on to telling time when the minute hand is pointing to any number: 1:05, 1:10, 1:15, 1:20, and so on.  After this concept is understood, your child should be ready to read any time on the clock.

Make a Clock

One educational activity that your child might enjoy is to make his or her own clock.  You can use any craft materials that you desire, but be sure to clearly mark the hours and even minutes, if possible. 

Teaching Time Toys/Games

For younger children, you could purchase the Melissa and Doug Shape Sorting Clock.  This clock has 12 wooden shapes, one for each hour, that you child can fit into the clock like a puzzle.  It costs around $12.99 and is good for children three and older.

Another cute toy for younger children aged 3 and up is Tic-Tock Answer Clock.  This clock is shaped like an owl with a clock for a belly.  Your child can move the minute and hour hands and then push on the owl’s foot to open the owl’s eyes and reveal the digital time.  This toy retails for about $15.

For children who are five and older, there is the Thames & Kosmos Little Labs-Time.  This is a board game that will help teach how to tell time on both analog and digital clocks as well as sundials and hourglasses.  It includes a 16 page color guidebook and can be purchased for around $16.

Another great game that helps children ages 4 and up learn to tell time is My First Clock by Ravensburger.  This game costs about $15 and will help your child learn how to tell time by the hour, half hour, and minutes.


Lastly, you could read books with your child that can help to teach time.  Check your local library, bookstore, or online seller like Amazon for books on telling time.  Some great choices include: “Telling Time with Big Mama Cat” by Dan Harper, “Bats Around the Clock” by Kathi Appelt, and “Bunny Day: Telling Time from Breakfast to Bedtime” by Rick Walton.

There are also some wonderful workbooks available like: “My Book of Telling Time: Learning about Minutes” by Shinobu Akaishi and Eno Sarris, “The Complete Book of Time and Money” by Carson-Dellosa Publishing, and “My Book of Easy Telling Time: Learning about Hours and half Hours” by Shinobu Akaishi and Eno Sarris.

One important thing to consider is if your child is ready to begin learning this concept.  It can be challenging skill to learn and sometimes waiting a little while can make the difference between a frustrating experience and a successful one. When ready to work on telling time, it is desirable to balance working with clocks, workbooks, and flashcards with engaging books and games.  Last, but not least, try to make this an interesting and fun experience that will give you an opportunity for quality time with your child.