My child, now four (soon five) years old, is interested in time, knowing what time it is and how long until something happens. We do not, at the moment, have analog clocks and a digital clock is not very convenient, especially since it shows time in the usual 24 hour manner, whereas we often say that "clock is seven" (word-for word translation) when the time is 7:00 or 19:00.

The other problem is the lack of concreteness; two-digit numbers and the symbol ":" as a separator between hours and minutes, and the idea that once the minutes reach 60 they reset while the hours keep on going; there is much to learn.

It seems a pity to not use the child's interest to teach a little bit about the subject matter.

  1. Is getting an analog clock the way to go, or are there alternatives?
  2. How to proceed, given the analog clock or other educational tools, and what are reasonable learning goals at this age?

(As always, please answer based on experience or reliable sources.)

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    $\begingroup$ One approach. When your kids are very small, get a big analog clock, and hang it on the wall. Over the years, when they ask about it, tell them how to read it. No pressure, no lessons. $\endgroup$ – Gerald Edgar Mar 20 at 15:29
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    $\begingroup$ With so much in our daily life still related to analog clock ("keep hands in 10-2 position while driving", "look at that girl at 1 o'clock", "I finished with my test and waited for the end of the exam, but the big arrow barely moved", also using watch as a compass, etc.) there is no other way as to get an analog clock. It is great for learning fractions and reducing them, like 15 minutes out of 60-minute hour is one quarter. P.S. At least your child will be learning proper metric units later at school ;-) $\endgroup$ – Rusty Core Mar 20 at 16:59
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    $\begingroup$ You could be very ambitious and get a binary-encoded digital clock too! $\endgroup$ – kcrisman Mar 20 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ @kcrisman Didnt know these clocks exist! $\endgroup$ – Paracosmiste Mar 20 at 19:49
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    $\begingroup$ I'm confused: your child seems to be interested in a situation, which might best be solved by buying an analog clock, so do you have any reason not to buy one? $\endgroup$ – Dominique Mar 22 at 8:13

My experience: In the early 2000's, I had my first child ($\approx$ 5 yrs) help me "build" an analog clock (it was just a paper model, no gears). We would occasionally set it to the correct time (given on my phone), perform some task, and then come back to the clock to reset the time. I think this gave him the sense of how fast/slow the minute hand took to move, and it reinforced the meaning of the tick marks for minutes. This made an easy transition to other analog clocks. I never did this with my 2nd child, and there was a definite delay in analog clock reading.

I do not know what the benchmarks were for this age back then, but the current Common Core puts "reading time" in 1st grade (ages 6-7), but restricts it to whole and half hours. Then, in 2nd grade (ages 7-8), students must tell and write time to the nearest 5 minutes.


Have you considered buying an analog watch for your child? My parents got me one for my sixth birthday and I was able to use it to tell time. I would think the child could also use it to learn to tell time. The advantages are that your child will always have it handy and be able to compare the watch to the digital time. Whenever you want to talk about time in or out of the house, your child will have it ready. Because it will belong to your child, he will know that you are supporting him in his quest to learn analog time. Just make sure to get a watch with numbers that are easy to read.

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    $\begingroup$ Or... she will know that you are supporting her in her quest to learn analog time. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Mar 24 at 14:10

Buy an analog clock, or a toy which allows your child (or you, when teaching your child) to move the big hand (minutes) and the short head (hours) to correspond with digital displays of time. Else, see this you-tube tutorial on how to tell time on an anolog clock.

Better yet, you can click on a digital analog clock on which you can assist your child in comparing digital time with the time according to an "analog clock", and vice-versa.

I think finding ways to expose children to everyday examples, e.g., an analog clock, a calendar, etc, helps them later to better grasp concepts like "bases" and "modular arithmetic" (e.g., @ 3:00 p.m. Thursday, an artist works uninterrupted for 11 hours. When does the artist's work finish?)

That way you won't have to buy anything of material significance which you infer is environmentally irresponsible (as is buying digital clocks and watches), and more, that actual material "things" may be hard to move at some later date (material digital clocks and watches also will need to be moved at some later date).

See also this tutorial/lesson-plans related to telling time on an analog clock.

Perhaps best, review the posts from Google Scholar on the topic of Why (and how to) teach time on an analog clock?. You'll find links to research-based studies and explanations as to why exposure to both analog and digital representations of time facilitates children's understanding and learning of time.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello! I just saw your comment. Unfortunately, after a very unpleasant incident on Meta SE a number of years ago, I requested disassociation from that site, so I'm unable to use chat-rooms tied to that. Oh well... $\endgroup$ – user21820 Jun 23 at 15:11
  • $\begingroup$ @user21820 I understand. Meta.SE is a pretty brutal site, largely unwelcoming of suggestions for change for users on non-SO sites, and most of its chats have cryptic descriptions, or none at all, designed to be mere "elite clubs"; not terribly welcoming at all. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Jun 23 at 15:14

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