Teaching Children to Read Analog Clocks

I’ve written before about the importance schools now place on teaching towards standardized testing and how that change in values has led to certain skills, once considered important, being neglected in the classroom. One of those vital early skills now often neglected in the classroom is teaching children how to read analog clocks. The advent of digital clocks and their constant availability on cell phones, computers, and wall clocks ensures that numerous children are making it through lives oblivious to the workings of the analog clock.  When public schools are not focusing on a skill, it falls on us as parents to supplement that education at home 

The Importance of Analog

Whether or not you choose to teach your children to read analog clocks will depend in large part on whether you find the skill to be useful.

The difference between analog clocks and digital clocks is that digital clocks simply show the increase in numbers from minute to minute, while analog clocks involve hands dividing the clock into evenly spaced segments. This is an important distinction between the two.

For children, five more minutes can feel like an eternity if they’re waiting for something or being told to do something they don’t enjoy, while it can feel like no time at all if they’re playing or watching television. This sensation of time dilation can prevent children from understanding the way time really works. By using analog clocks, children have the ability to visualize the even spacing between every second, minute, and hour in the day, leading to a better overall understanding of time and its workings.

Learning to read analog clocks has other uses as well. It can, for example, help children begin to understand the concept of fractions and breaking things into chunks. As adults, we also use time speak—ie, “Look at that house over at 3 o’clock”—to give directions, a skill that will be lost on children who do not learn to read analog.

How to Teach Children Analog

So how do we teach this valuable skill to our children? The task is easier than you may think. With just a little extra work on your part and a rearrangement of your home environment, your children will be reading analog clocks in no time at all.

The first step to teaching children to read analog clocks is to expose them to more analog clocks in the home. Because public spheres will almost always have digital clocks available, invest in analog clocks to hang in prominent rooms in your house, such as your kitchen, living room, and child’s bedroom. When children ask what time it is, be sure to purposefully look at the analog clock—rather than at your cell phone—and read it out loud. Say something like, “The small, hour hand is on the one, and the long minute hand is on the three, so that means it’s one fifteen.”

Once your children have gotten used to you reading the analog clocks out loud, enlist their help when they want to know what time it is. Say things like, “What number is the minute hand on?” If they’re at the right age, you can also help them with their multiplication skills by saying, “It’s on the three. Right. And five times three is?” This modeling will prepare them with the skills they need to begin reading analog clocks independently.

Finally, when you have set the groundwork, invest in a nice analog watch for your child. Make it feel special, perhaps investing in a leather watch strap for them so it’s just like Dad’s watch. This can make them proud to keep the watch on their wrist. Now, when they want to know what time it is, have them look at their watch and tell you. You can also enlist their help as little timers, i.e., “Tell me when six minutes are up, and then I’ll flip the meat.” After laying the groundwork, giving them these small responsibilities will make them feel so proud they won’t realize they’re learning a new skill.