It’s About Time

Summer vacation is over. School is underway. And it’s time to get back on schedule. So, what better mathy topic to talk about than time? Actually, this one is about clocks. Time will have to wait for another…uh…time.

And if you’d like to save time and cut to the chase, the point of this post is: hang a big wall clock in your house somewhere the kids can’t avoiding seeing it everyday. Here’s why…

When I first started teaching, I stopped wearing a watch. In my mind, this was a statement of my unwillingness to be completely shackled to a schedule. In reality, there is no one more ruled by a schedule than a teacher, wristwatch or not. And my statement was, in fact, very small. There is always a clock hanging in a classroom and glowing at the bottom of a computer screen.

But these two clocks are not created equal. The clock on the wall is analog. The hands of that clock sweep out a continuous visual and physical representation of time. The clock on my computer screen is digital. It displays the digits representing a discrete moment in time. And, by the way, the clock on my microwave is digital. And the clock on my oven is digital. And the clock on my bedside table is digital. And the clock in my car is digital. And the clock on my phone is digital. And…well, you get the idea. The only clocks that aren’t digital these days are either artistic statements or are on the wall of a schoolroom. Furthermore, I’m willing to bet that if you asked any student in one of those classrooms what time it is, they will not first look up to the wall to interpret the round clock with hands. They will look at their phone. Or their digital wrist adornment. But they will, at all costs, avoid the round clock with hands. Even my 8-year-old, who has been taught how to tell time on a round clock, will instinctively turn to the digital clock when asked what time it is. It’s easier.

It may seem like no big deal that kids don’t really like using analog clocks, but I would argue that they are missing out on routine and subtle exposure to many mathematical ideas. When you read time from a digital clock, you do not have to think. You simply say what you see. When you read time from a round analog clock, you may or may not realize the many mathematical concepts embedded in your interpretation. When you tell time from a round clock with hands:

  • you are instinctively counting by fives and fifteens
  • you are thinking in terms of addition and subtraction and maybe even multiplication
  • you are translating both a base-12 numerical system and a base-60 numerical system
  • you are visualizing abstractions
  • you are comparing distances
  • you are seeing angles and arcs

Seriously, did you know that you were doing this? Now that you do, don’t you want to run out and get your kids a watch with hands on it? Or hang a really big analog clock in your kitchen and your living room and your kids’ rooms? Do it. Really. Reap the benefits of the quality mathy moments that occur every time we look at and interpret an analog clock!

Here are some guidelines:

  • Pick a clock whose hour markings are all displayed (1-12).
  • Pick a clock whose minutes markings are at least shown by 5’s.
  • Worry less about artistic statement and more about how your child will see the clock.
  • Hang it in a place where your child will easily see it without having to look for it purposefully (maybe on the wall opposite where they sit for their meals, maybe on the wall above or to the side of the tv, maybe even on the wall above or opposite the toilet in the bathroom!)

Here are some ideas for clocks that fit the bill (these are Amazon links that I will receive a small benefit from if you choose to buy…I do not own either one, nor do I endorse them except to note that they have the right numbers labelled):

And while you’re at it, check out this clock. What a brilliant teaching tool!

(Mathematically…exposure is everything. The more your child works with time as it is represented on a round clock with moving hands, the more they will be building foundational skills and connections to mathematical concepts. And just like playing games, this is low hanging fruit. Your child benefits every time they look at the clock. You don’t have to actively teach anything. But you can if you want to.)

PhotoCredit: VisualHunt

6 thoughts on “It’s About Time

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  1. Loved this post Pam. I love math too. But feel bad when kids find it difficult and fear the subject. I tell them “numbers speak to you” and they say “you have gone mad..” Loved your concept of mathy moments.. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A nephew of mine had never learned to tell time from a standard clock, and was extremely confused one day, looking for an explanation of why people said “quarter of” and “quarter to” the hour because he thought a quarter should equal 25.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love this observation. I should add another bullet point to the list of mathematical concepts a clock helps with…fractions! Pieces of the classic pizza pie. Not to mention angle measurements around a point. The list keeps growing!


  3. YES! Mathy moments is back! Thanks for listing all the reasons why the analog clock is so great. I didn’t realize there were so many. I just had this instinctual feeling that they were good for learning!


  4. This is GREAT! Avery tells time digitally and we have Learning Resources clock, but I really like hanging one someplace she can see and actually blocking the time on the cable box to force her to use an analog clock. Will start looking for a Disney clock – that will get her into telling time and doing math without even trying!


    1. I remember my Mickey Mouse watch…loved it. Another funny thing…I feel less time pressure and stress when I use an analog clock. I think it is because I can connect the visual distance I observe on the clock to the amount of time I have to get somewhere. When I look at a digital clock I don’t see “11:50” as meaning I have a whole 10 minutes before noon…I interpret it is as “Oh, dang! It’s essentially noon. No time!!”


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