Teaching kids to tell the time – and the best learning games

  • We earn a commission for products purchased through some links in this article.
  • Along with learning numbers and the alphabet, learning how to tell the time is up there with some of the pivotal things that parents need to start teaching young children from an early age.

    But luckily, it’s easy enough to do and there are plenty of learning tools out there to help with teaching kids to tell time. Before they get their first watch, you can use games and learning devices to help them along their way to recognising numbers as the first step, before going into harder territory like minutes and seconds.

    It doesn’t all need to come at once though. Teaching kids to tell time is a process that actually happens over a number of years and is normally supported by teachers in schools and even at nursery. This is what you need to know to help teach kids how to tell the time…

    When should children learn to tell the time?

    Children are taught to properly tell the time when they start school aged four or five years old. However, it’s thought that children as young as two can count to ten so beginning to teach kids how to tell the time before then is a good idea. 

    Childcare Development Manager for nursery group Storal Learning, Hannah Tranah says, “Learning to tell the time is a long process, roughly developed between the ages of three and eight. By age three to four children should be able to order a sequence of events and to measure short periods of time in simple ways.” 

    According to the National Maths Curriculum, children are officially taught to tell the time from five or six years old when they enter year one and key stage one.

    kids in a class room learning how to tell the time

    Credit: Getty

    Year one: Children are taught to tell the time on the hour and half past the hour, and to draw hands on a clock face to show these times. 

    Year two: Although year two is also key stage one, now, children are taught to tell the time in five minutes, including quarter past/to the hour and draw the hands on the clock representing these times. 

    Children are also expected to know the number of minutes in one hour and the number of hours in one day.

    Year three: In key stage two, children will be expected to know the time and write the time from an analogue clock, use Roman numerals from I to XII, as well as the 12-hour and 24-hour clocks. 

    Young children will also need to be able to estimate and read the time with accuracy to the nearest minute, record the time, use vocabulary like morning, afternoon, noon and midnight, along with O’clock, a.m and p.m. 

    Year four: This is the second year of key stage two and the last year that the national curriculum requires schools to teach children to tell the time. At the end of year four, children will be expected to be able to read, write and record analogue and digital time, and convert 12 hour to 24 hour clocks. 

    READ MORE: Child development stages 1-5 years old

    What’s the easiest way to teach children to tell the time?

    Hannah says that learning to tell the time can be tricky for young children as it requires concentrating on two sets of different ideas at the same time. “As such, learning to tell the time puts real strain on a child’s working memory. It’s therefore important to start teaching children early through practical and fun techniques.” 

    These are Hannah’s tips for the easiest way to teach children how to tell the time:

    1) Use time in everyday life

    family in the kitchen with clock on the wall - teaching kids to tell time

    Credit: Getty

    “Before your child will be able to tell the time on a clock, they need to grasp the concept of time and how it relates to their own experiences.” Hannah tells GoodtoKnow, “It’s important to connect time into their daily routine through simple phrases such as, ‘It’s six o’clock – time for your dinner’.”

    She adds, “Likewise, talk about what you do regularly at different times of the day. Compare and contrast weekdays and weekends and use time vocabulary such as today, now, yesterday and afterwards.” 

    2) Make them comfortable with counting

    The next step is to make sure that your children are comfortable with the numbers they will be using to tell the time. As Hannah tells us, “You will need to ensure your child to confident with counting from one to 60 before introducing them to a clock.

    “This can be done by counting in everyday life, such as when climbing stairs.” 

    3) Play fun games

    The way to teaching kids anything is through fun and there are plenty of games and educational toys out there to help you out. 

    “Once your child is confident with numbers,” Hannah says, “You can start to increase their awareness of time with simple activities and games such as ‘What’s the time mister wolf?’” 

    Scroll down for some of our favourites. 

    Which clock is best to help children learn to tell the time?

    young boy learning to tell the time

    Credit: Getty

    “It’s best to get your child familiar with an analogue clock first, before introducing digital.” Hannah suggests, “Start by putting a clock in your child’s bedroom and referring to it in everyday life.” 

    You can also get creative with your clocks and do some activities together to get your child used to telling the time. Our expert advises making clocks on a paper plate and getting the little one to move the hands around to the hours and minutes you suggest. 

    But Hannah says, “Be sure to focus on important markers (12, 3, 6 and 9) as well as the hour hand and minute hand during construction.” 

    You could also buy them a watch to get kids excited about learning how to tell the time.

    Best analogue clocks and games to help with teaching kids to tell time …