5 fun ways to teach kids to tell time

Ready to teach your kids how to tell time? Try these engaging, creative games.

Photo: iStockphoto

Teaching kids how to tell time can be surprisingly tricky when you first try it. Here’s how to make it doable and fun.

1. Match up Easter eggs
For this game, you’ll need a permanent marker and plastic dollar-store Easter eggs. Write matching times on the bottom half and the top half of each Easter egg, using different formats: digital (e.g., 4:30), analog (clock face) and text (e.g., “four thirty”). “The big strength of this game is that it helps kids understand there are different ways to talk about time,” says Vanessa Vakharia, founder of The Math Guru in Toronto.

For more details and pictures on exactly how this game works, click here.

2. Move those hands
Draw a simple clock face, then get your kid to use two colours of playdough to make a shorter hour hand and a longer minute hand. Talk about the events of the day—for example, “At 7 o’clock in the morning we get up, at 8:30 you get to school”—while she moves the hands to the right spot. “This helps kids start associating activities with the actual passage of time,” says Vakharia. Change the game up by rolling dice and moving the hands forward or back the corresponding number of hours, maybe adding in a different activity to go with each time (“5 o’clock—time to dance!”). To take the game outside in nice weather, make a clock with a hula hoop and sidewalk chalk, and use sticks for hands.

For more details and pictures on exactly how the playdough clock game works, click here.

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3. Use the “secret identity” concept
Understanding that the “2” on the clock face actually means “10 minutes after the hour” is one of the more challenging things for kids to get. One fun way to explain it is to tell your kid that numbers have secret identities. “Kids have incredible imaginations, so anything you can do to create a cool narrative is going to help them relate to the concept,” says Vakharia. One way to reinforce the idea and teach your kid each numbers’ secret identity using a layered clock.

4. Play “Mountains, Hills and Rocks”
Grasping the concept of the amount of time between time A and time B, known as “elapsed time,” is another toughie (as any parent trying to get kids out the door in the morning understands). Here’s one way to explain it. Write a beginning time, like 7:30, on the left-hand side of a paper, and an end time, like 9:02 on the right-hand side. Then, show how to break down the time into units: one hour from 7:30 to 8:30 is a mountain (draw a peak to represent an hour), 8:30 to 9:00 is a hill (draw a curve to represent 30 minutes) and 9:00 to 9:02 are rocks (draw two smaller curves to represent each minute). Add them up to show how much time has passed. “This game works because kids like storytelling and visuals, and the size of the curve relates to the size of the unit of time,” notes Vakharia.

For more details on how this works, click here.

5. Use an app
Time Teacher (iOS) allows kids to repeatedly move the hands on a clock and has little quizzes to test knowledge like whether the digital time matches the analog. Interactive Telling Time (iOS and Android) also has draggable hands to set the correct time, plus allows parents to customize settings like a 12- or 24-hour clock format and levels of difficulty, and has a “Stop the Clock” game to help kids identify minutes. Vakharia says apps are great for practicing without a physical clock handy (like while waiting in a restaurant).

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