Teaching the time to young children can get overly complicated because time is such an abstract concept. However, it’s important to keep applying the K.I.S.S. rule (keep it simple silly) if you want to keep students engaged.
Learning to tell the time to the hour, half past and quarter past, are all built into the maths curriculum at various stages but do not present these lessons as 'maths lessons' or your lower students will tune out right away!
Instead, here are my favourite five ways to keep students engaged while learning to tell the time:
1. Keep building on the basics
Before students learn the time, they must first master a few basic skills. Counting in 5s is essential because it’s the building block for counting around the clock face. In addition, understanding halves and quarters is going to help you discuss what half an hour and quarter of a hour is.
2. Keep it hands-on
Yes, your classroom has a clock in it. There are clocks everywhere, but do your students really know how to read a clock or why the hands move around the clock face? Keep your early discussions of clocks as hands-on as possible. Paint clocks, draw clock faces, write on paper plates, place numbers on the floor. Let students see and manipulate the elements of a clock face, numbers and hands. Where do the numbers go? Why do they go there? Let students explore at their own pace. This is an opportunity to hook them in and build that engagement early.
3. Keep it relevant to students’ lives
Time is such an abstract concept for young children. Two o’clock in the afternoon looks very much like two thirty to them. Build all your discussions about clocks around your classroom activities. You will probably already place times on your class schedule and discuss these with students at the start of each day (if not you should be!). Now is a chance to ask students, What events do we have on today? What time do we do these events? Morning or afternoon? What do we do first thing in the morning? Get students to write the times they do activities down in both the classroom and at home. Keep it relevant to them.
4. Keep it fun
This goes without saying really but it’s so important to keep telling the time fun. Do not make it a chore. Sing songs (here is a great YouTube video kids can sing to) and make classroom clocks. Get students to sit in a circle and give them numbers to make a living clock face, then get a student to lie in the middle and move their arms to the correct position (a mild formative assessment).
5. Keep it integrated into daily classroom activities
It takes time (ironically) to learn to tell the time. Practice every day with students and see what they can do at home to keep it relevant outside of the classroom. This is a skill they will need for life.
You can purchase many of these activities here.