How to explain telling time to a child with easy-to-follow steps.

This article is for moms and teachers looking for:

– find a simple and effective way to introduce clocks to a child;

– teach a preschooler to tell time on their own;

– to prepare engaging math lessons for young preschool and primary school students.

– teaching resources to teach telling time to a child.

printable clock for math lesson with text. It says: telling time with easy to follow step + activities for preschool and kindergarten

What do you need to know before you start introducing telling time to your child?

When to start introducing time to a child?

Usually, kids begin to get acquainted with the clock at 5-6 years.

But, it is not the age that is important, but rather the ability to be time-bound and well-informed. Be sure that child knows and uses the concepts: day, night, morning, evening. We need the kid’s understanding of cyclicality between the days of the week and even the months. So, first, we form the child’s basic ideas of orientation in time.


How is the child's orientation in time formed?

The child’s orientation in time begins in everyday life through routines and procedures.

Working with children at the age of 3, we form ideas about the parts of the day: morning, afternoon, evening, night.

With children of 4 years old, we develop ideas about the day and the regular change of parts of the day. Also, we teach kids to distinguish between the concepts of yesterday, today, tomorrow.

From the age of 5, children get acquainted with the concept of a week, the days of the week, weekends, and working days. The ordinal account helps us with their successive change (Monday is the first day of the week, Tuesday is the second, etc.).

At the same time, we keep in mind that every child is different. Someone can name all the months and days of the week in order at four years old, and someone at six years old can confuse them. And our task is to help the kids to figure it out! 😉

The skill of time determination will form on these fundamental notions of time.

Teach a child how to tell time step by step.

In practice, to teach children to understand the principle of telling time by the clock, I use a method consisting       
of 6 stages or 6 steps. Dividing the process into small steps makes it easier for kids to master the concept. Practical activities, worksheets, and games make this process exciting.

Step 1. Introduction. Telling time the the hour (in the time range of 12 hours).


The introduction is the very first and most crucial step. It is the very foundation on which the rest are laid. 

  1. Introduce the child to the watch device, using the concepts: clock, the face of the clock, hour hand and minute hand (arrows), and their meanings. Allow considering the clock on their own.
  2. Let’s look at numbers. We introduce the concept of “zero mark” and call the numbers in order. We note that the numbers always stand in a defined order and help us remember the direction of the arrows.
  3. Focus the child’s attention that the hands of the clock always move in a circle in a specific direction, “clockwise.”
  4. We conduct a small survey of the child. We show various integer values on the clock with the hour hand and ask the child to name what hour hand indicates. In this case, we set the minute hand to 00 or do not use it if possible.
  5. We discuss with the child hour areas (space between two nearest hour marks). The hour actually has a space/area. As long as the hour hand is within that space, that’s the hour. The child learns to determine the time based on the area where the hand (hour or minute) is located.
  6. We practice. It’s time to have fun: play games with the definition of time by the clock.

Telling time to the hour puzzles for little learners

Click here to check out 1-step activities: “Telling time to Hour” (12 hours)” and “Telling time to Hour Worksheets”
in my Teachers pay Teachers store for your little students.

Step 2. Telling time to the quarter hour or 15 minutes (in 12-hour time range).

Now, it’s time to introduce and teach the child to use the minute hand to tell the time. For convenience, start from quarters (00, 15, 30, 45 minutes). And don’t forget about practice.

Then continue to work in stages, expanding the time range and depth.

Step 3. Telling time to within 5 minutes (in the time range of 12 hours).


Converting analog time to digital and vice versa.

Step 4. Telling Time by the clock to the nearest hour and half hour (in the time range of 24 hours).

There are 24 hours in one day. If you are using only a 12-hour time range – it’s time to teach about A.M. and P.M. 

 Those 24 hours are divided into two parts. Each part is 12 hours long. These parts are called A.M. and P.M.

  • We call the time between midnight and noon A.M. (“before noon”).
  • We call the time between noon and midnight P.M. (“after midday”).

I recommend practicing telling and converting time with your kids using both the 24-hours and the 12-hours range. Example: Time at clock 23:00. Ask a child to correct it to 12 hours using A.M. and P.M.

Step 5. Telling time by the clock to within 15 minutes (in the time range of 24 hours).

Practice+Practice+Practice. Practice is essential in learning.

Step 6. Telling Time to the minute (in the time range of 24 hours).

how to explain telling time step by step

Games and practical activities for children to practice telling time.

If your goal is to engage the child during the lesson, simplify perceiving information, and use games and practical tasks.

In practice, children learn to convert time from analog to electronic and vice versa since the child will have to use both options in everyday life.

Here are some examples of telling time activities that will be great additions to your curriculum and make the class memorable.

1. Practice telling time on an analog clocks.

Practical activities, worksheets, and games make this learning process exciting.  

Telling time worksheets were created for your little students in Preschool and Kindergarten to learn and practice.

These printables will be an excellent supplement to your Time unit while working at home and in-classroom use. Use worksheets to create an activity book for your children (cover included), or use them separately.

Telling time worksheets for little learners

Children adore clip cards with clothespins. Easy to use and fun.

Telling time to the hour clip cards.

2. Practice telling time on a digital clocks.

Digital clock building for little learners

Working on fine motor skills during the math lesson makes the teacher’s heart smile.

Click here to check out 1-step activities: “Telling time to Hour” (12 hours)” and “Telling time to Hour Worksheets”
in my Teachers pay Teachers store for your little students.

So to sum up:

What does a child need to learn to tell time on their own?

To learn how to tell time on their own, a child needs 5 key components:

1- Order of numbers. Knowing the order of numbers precedes the beginning of acquaintance with the clock. Practice with a child: counting up to 60 (oral ordinal counting) and positions of numbers in order (more and less, earlier and later, before and after).

The first thing a child sees when meeting a watch (clock) is the arrangement of numbers on the dial (clock face) and the presence of hands. So, it is critical to remember these key components and learn how to use them. 

2 – Arrangement of numbers on the dial. An adult may no longer look at the numbers, looking at the clock. Visual perception and visual memory tell him what time the clock shows, even if there are no numbers on them at all. The child’s task is to remember the arrangement of numbers for the formation of this skill. This will make reading the clock easier and speed up the process.

3 – The names and meanings of the hour hand and minute hand on the clock and the direction of their movement. You can’t do without this knowledge!

4 – Hour area (space). The hour actually has a space/area. As long as the hour hand is within that space, that’s the hour. The child learns to determine the time based on which area the hand (hour or minute) is located. 

The hour area is located between two adjacent numbers on the face of the clock. Usually, they are separated from each other by hour markers. The countdown starts from zero (12 or 0). After the arrow (hour hand) crosses the “1” mark and until this arrow crosses the “2” mark, this is area “1.” It applies to minute areas as well.

5 – Practice. Practice is essential in learning, and determining the time is no exception. The more the child practices to set the time on the clock and tell the time, the faster and better the result will be. And this can not do without practical tasks and games.


Happy teaching!

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