Teaching Kids About the Clock – How and When?

I’m a dad of twin boys aged 6 and I have started to wonder when my boys can benefit from wearing a wristwatch.

However, they still don’t know how to read the clock, so perhaps it’s a good time to start the teaching now.

This summer of 2019, my boys will become 1st graders and that means they will be exposed to a massive maturing process.

In many ways, primary school is the beginning of a course in which play and casual fun increasingly have to make room for knowledge, learning and independence, tools they will later use in the meeting with the modern, hectic adult community, where everything and everyone is subject to the clock.

But how do you teach your child how to read the clock?

I will show a method recommended by experts later in this article.

At What Age Should You Start Teaching Your Kid How to Tell Time?

Children are different and there’s no set age children are expected to learn how to tell time, as every child learns at a different pace.

However, I can sense that time is approaching where my boys are ready to get to know about the clock.

It fits well with the research I have done on the subject, where experts point out that the age at which the first grade begins, ie 5-7 years, is a good time to start.

The Initial Maneuvers

I have already taken the first steps in this teaching.

My boys often ask when guests arrive or when a particular broadcast begins on television.

Then I point to the clock on the wall in our kitchen and tell them where the hour hand must be on the dial.

I always make sure not to involve the minute hand to avoid confusion.

Should Children Learn the Clock Analogously or Digitally First?

In these digital times, one could argue that the easiest thing would be to teach our children about time using a digital clock.

The teaching itself would probably be a little easier too, as the child just needs to read the numbers.

But there is something special about a dial with numbers and hands, because you get a better feel for the movement of time when you see the hands moving physically around the dial.

And then there is the special way we measure time not using the decimal system, which we otherwise do in almost all other contexts.

One day is divided into 24 hours, one hour is divided into 60 minutes and one minute is divided into 60 seconds.

In addition, we use a terminology that can confuse any outsider!

“Quarter to two”, “twenty past five”, “half past three”, “ten to ten” and so on.

And just to make things even more complicated all these times have 2 versions, a.m. and p.m.

The terminology we use to describe a time is a direct result of the physical clock face and is much easier to understand when looking at an analog dial.

The conclusion will have to be that a child’s very first wristwatch should be analog and the dial must have large clear numbers at all hour positions, not just at position 12, 3, 6 and 9.

Later if the child wants a digital watch instead, the understanding is in place.

How to Teach Kids to Tell Time

To teach a child how to read the clock is in stages and requires patience.

Here is a method recommended by experts:

STEP 1: Practice counting to 60

In order to tell time the child must be able to count to 60.

Write the numbers down on a piece of paper with your child. Say the numbers aloud while writing.

Save the paper and take it out once in a while to practice the numbers.

STEP 2: Practice counting by 5

A slightly harder exercise, but basically the same practice technique as practicing counting to 60.

It can be helpful to point out to the child that all numbers in the 5-table end in 0 or 5.

STEP 3: Practice the general concept of time

The day is subdivided into 4 periods; morning, noon, evening and nighttime.

Talk to your child about these periods and teach the child that each period can be associated with special activities.

For example, in the morning we eat breakfast and brush our teeth, at noon we eat lunch, in the evening we prepare for bedtime and at night we may read a story and go to bed.

Practice the differences by asking your child what happens at the different times of the day.

STEP 4: Make a Clock

Make a teaching clock with your child or buy one.

There are many good teaching clocks that can be purchased online, but keep in mind that it can be a great value to make the clock from scratch with your child.

It’s a good opportunity to be together on a project while the child learns something about the basic structure of the clock.

STEP 5: The Hands

With the homemade clock ready, the time has come to teach your child the difference between the two hands.

Ask your child about the difference between the two hands.

If the child hesitates with an answer, ask if there’s a difference in their length.

Tell your child that the short hand is called the hour hand and the long hand is the minute hand.

Get your child to write “hour” on the hour hand and “minute” on the minute hand.

STEP 6: The Hour Hand

Now it’s time to explain the hour hand.

Point the hour hand at each number, keeping the minute hand at 12 o’clock.

Go through each number saying, “It is 1 o’clock now. Now it is 2 o’clock. It’s 3 o’clock…” Then have your kid repeat what you just did.

During the week pick a day or two where you ask your child where the hands should be at different times.

You can associate activities with the times you practice in order for the child to better understand the difference and improve memory.

STEP 7: The Minute Hand

This is where things can get a bit tricky.

Write all the numbers from 1 to 12 down on a piece of paper.

Now explain to the child that the number 1 also means 5 minutes, the number 2 also means 10 minutes, etc.

Now get the child to write a small number 5 next to the number 1, a small number 10 next to the number 2, etc.

Remind the child about the 5-table that was practiced earlier and make sure the child understands that all the new numbers always end in 0 or 5.

Tell the child that these new numbers are a kind of ‘secret’ numbers that only applies when it’s the minute hand we are looking at.

STEP 8: The Meaning of the Minute Hand

Use the teaching clock to show the child the connection between the minute hand and the new ‘secret’ numbers.

Keeping the hour hand still, point the minute hand at each number and say the associated minutes.

For example, point the minute hand at 2 and say, “It’s 10 minutes now.” Then point the minute hand at 3 and say, “It’s 15 minutes now.”

STEP 9: Reading the Hour and Minute Hand Together

Now it’s time to read the hour and minute hands together.

Begin with simple times such as 1:15, 2:30, 5:45, etc.

Point the hour hand at a number. Also point the minute hand at a number and then tell the child the time.

Repeat with the child that when it is the big hand we look at, it is the ‘secret’ numbers that apply.

Practice many different times using the teaching clock until the child gets the hang of it.

STEP 10: Non-5 Minutes

Add marks between each 5-minute interval on the teaching clock’s face and write the corresponding minute numbers.

Get the child to write as many of them as possible.

When all minute numbers have been written on the dial, rehearse times where both hour and minute hand are included.

Practice times where the minute number falls outside the 5-table.

For example, let the hour hand point at 3 and the minute hand point at 7 minutes past 12 and tell the child that the time is 3:07.

Continue this exercise until the child understands how the minutes are read on the dial.

STEP 11: The Final Challenge

When the child knows how to read the clock on the practice clock, switch to an ordinary analog clock where the minutes are not listed with numbers.

Practice times on the regular analog clock with the child until the child can say the time each time you ask what the time is.

Related Articles

How to Make a Teaching Clock for Kids

At What Age to Buy Kids a Watch?

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Claus is a laboratory technician, autodidact guitarist, songwriter, music publisher, co-founder of App Division ApS, dad of fraternal twin boys, Sci-Fi lover, incarnated Mike Oldfield fan, pro world peace and an incorrigible coffee addict.


  1. What age is the appropriate to start the clock learning thing? I am a father too and I have a 3 years old daughter, I think it is a good idea to introduce clock reading to children  earlier, though they may seams not to grab it immediately but believe me they are getting it more than you imagine! Teaching children with analogue is the best as they can easily learn digital on their own so far they understand numbers. How long could it take to teach clock as illustrated?

    • There are no set age kids are expected to learn how to tell time, only recommendations. If the child is interested I see no problem in teaching how to read the clock earlier.

  2. can you explain about make a clock? I have read the topic carefully and finally, learn a great method of teaching kids about the clock. really this method is effective for kids. every family should flow this method and teach their child’s very easily. thanks for the great method, my friends.

    • I might update the article soon to include information about how to make a teaching clock. Thanks for pointing this out.

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