Telling Time is Not a Math Skill

ESGI Guest Blogger Kathy Crane

Teaching children to tell time is not a math skill. That may seem strange to say about a concept that is usually included in math text books and taught in math class. However, even though telling time includes an understanding of numerical values, telling time is more about learning how to use a particular tool, than understanding a mathematical concept.

Once this is understood, it becomes clearer why teachers need to focus a discussion of time on the analog clock and not the digital. Though both are important tools, the analog clock is the tool that will give children the best understanding of what it is, exactly, they are measuring with the clock.

What do adults mean when they say, “Just a second”, or when Mom says, “In a minute” does she really finish in “a minute”? Looking at an analog clock, children can begin to understand just what the terms, second, minute, and hour, actually mean. By drawing their attention to each individual hand on the clock, they can begin to see how long it takes for each increment of time to pass.

Many teachers first begin the study of the analog clock by having children experiment with time while focusing on each hand of the clock. Children can look at the second hand, for example, and see how far they can count or how much they can jump or how tall they can build blocks in a second. Then they can try the same activities while watching the minute hand to get a feel for how long a minute is. To gain an understanding of how long an hour is, John Van Der Walle, suggests removing the minute hand from the clock in order to help children focus on that hand and it’s relationship to the numbers on the clock. By focusing on the hour hand alone, children as young as 5 can make time statements such as, “It’s half way to 6 o’clock” or “It’s just after 8 o’clock” which is, in general, how adults refer to time.

Once children begin to understand how an analog clock works, what each hand is for, and how to properly read the clock, the analog clock can be used as a starting point for other math activities. For example, Cathy Fosnot suggests using the analog clock as a basis for teaching fractions. The analog clock can also be used to teach angles, mean, or variables. In fact, there is no end to the usefulness of this tool, once we teach our students to properly understand it.

Guest Blogger: 
Kathy Crane