Digital clocks complicate lessons on telling time

August 24, 2000

Digital clocks complicate lessons on telling time

Teaching your child | By Lisa Tedrick Prejean

My son's toy clock quizzes him on the time displayed on its face.

When he tires of playing with it, he tries to stump me.

"What time is it when the big hand is on the eight and the small hand is on the three, Mommy?"

To answer, I have to visualize a clock.

Think about it.

Did you stop reading for a few seconds to figure it out?

The answer is 2:40.

If it stops adults, imagine how hard it is for children. Perhaps you remember trying to learn how to tell time.


It's even harder for kids now because almost everything is digital. They rarely see an analog clock, one that has a "face" with hour and minute hands.

And while it seems like a task our children shouldn't have to learn, there are several reasons why they should, says Anne Hott, reading improvement teacher at Smithsburg Elementary School.

Phrases such as "quarter after" or "half past" are commonly used.

"What's a quarter on a digital clock?" Hott asks.

Hott, who taught third grade for 12 years, says children shouldn't be expected to tell time until about third or fourth grade.

But, as with any concept, training should begin earlier.

Here are Hott's suggestions:

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Consider buying your child an alarm clock that is not digital.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make a paper plate clock that your child can play with. Use construction paper to make minute and hour hands. A brass fastener will hold the ends of the hands in the plate's center. Draw numbers around the edge of the plate. Write "minute" and "hour" on the hands.

Hott says it helps to tell a child that minute is the longer word so it goes on the longer hand. Likewise, hour is the shorter word, so it goes on the shorter hand. Compare the plate to a pie so the child can understand the concept of quarter and half.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Make pictures of clocks to post around the house or on a calendar that show a child what time things are done. The picture clock by the bed can show wake-up time or bedtime. The clock by the table could show lunchtime, etc.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Children need to have an awareness of time. Hott has tested students to see if they know how long a minute is. They put their heads on their desks and are told to raise their hands when a minute is up. Some children put their hands up after a couple of seconds. Other kids knew to count to 60 slowly and were closer to the mark.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> If you want a child to read, practice an instrument or perform some other task for a certain amount of time, set a kitchen timer and tell him he can stop when the timer goes off. Eventually, this will give him a better sense of time, Hott says.

HEIGHT="6" ALT="* "> Once a child can tell time, work with him on the concept of elapsed time. For example: If it's 10 o'clock now and it takes two hours to get somewhere, what time will it be when you get there? When a child is in the fourth or fifth grade, he should be able to answer such a question, Hott says.

Hott recommends "The Grouchy Ladybug" by Eric Carle. The book tells what the ladybug does at various times during the day. There is a picture of a clock on each page that displays the time the activity is occurring.

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