Half past yesterday and quarter till tomorrow: Kids still need analog clock-reading skills

Digital time display is hardly new. LED and LCD digital watches came on the scene in the ‘70s. However, with at-a-glance time displays on every cell phone and e-device, will today’s kids learn to “tell” time? It’s a bit like when parents feared that Velcro straps on shoes would delay—or even prevent—kids from learning to tie shoelaces. Most kids do learn to tie their shoes, and most will learn to read analog clocks. But giving them a hand in learning big hand/little hand time definitely helps.

Karen Cicero, writing for Parents Magazine, included excellent tips for helping kids get comfortable with analog clocks and time increments in her article, “Learning to Tell Time.” In it Amy Sperrazza, a second-grade teacher in New York City says that "It's the fact that the numbers have two separate meanings" that confuses kids the most. She playfully tells kids that the numbers have secret identities, “like when Clark Kent becomes Superman,” with the transition happening “only when the big hand is on the number.”

A mom also quoted in the article made a cardboard practice clock that “contains both the real numbers and each of their secret identities.”

It’s abstract concepts such as 1 meaning both five after or 1:00, depending on location of the hands, that can be tricky in learning to tell analog time. Another challenge that parents can focus on in daily routines is the idea of elapsed time. “It’s 5:15. This recipe takes 45 minutes. If we want dinner to be ready at 6:30 what time do we need to start?”

In the Time Center’s “Online Tips for Teaching Kids to Tell Time,” by Niclas Marie, it suggests that parents “Make a habit of announcing when certain events will take one, five or 15 minutes, and announce when they're over. You may find that using a stopwatch, alarm, or kitchen timer can help speed the process of learning. Time some of your child's favorite activities to help him or her personally connect with the intervals.”

The Time Center post adds that “Relying on figurative expressions, like ‘in a minute’ or ‘just a second,’ to convey ideas or actions may inadvertently make learning time more difficult for your child” and suggests reintroducing these figures of speech after kids have some skill and experience with real time.

Sperrazza also explains that being able to skip count by 5s makes learning to tell time much easier, and the Time Center post recommends grouping fun items such as building blocks or candy into 5s to help teach this important concept.

What if kids continue to pull out a device or run into another room to check digital time? In the Parents article Marilee Abramshe, a third-grade teacher from Congers, NY, suggests that “If you find that your child is still struggling with telling time, consider buying him a watch to wear and replacing the digital clock in his room with an analog one."

Kids can also clock hours of fun with the Telling Time Learning Set for one to four players. It offers an amazing number of options for helping kids to learn to tell time. They can play multiple games with 4 Lotto boards and 72 cards or use bold, bright, press-out clocks on 28 double-sided quiz cards for telling time. They also get pencil-and-paper learning with 48-page workbook. It all comes in one handy carrying case that makes clean-up and storage easy and convenient for use at home or while traveling.

Or put the gift of time in kids’ hands with the Telling Time Flash Cards app for iOS or Android. Not only do the cards show analog time on one side – tap to hear it – and digital on the other, but move the hour and minute hands of the cuckoo clock to set the time correctly, and you’ll get a surprise. Both the flash cards and the game have Easy and Hard levels of play. The Easy level uses hour and half hour times, while Hard includes quarter-hour and five-minute increments.

With a few creative tools and strategies, telling time the old-fashioned way will be a brand-new and important learning adventure.