Teaching toddlers to tell the time

Images and words: Getty and Sara Conway 

1 My clock: this clock has moving hands and event labels to add throughout the day.

You’ll need: paper plate, stickers of the numbers 1-12 (or cut them from paper), card, a paper fastener (split pin), magazines to cut out

  1. Ask your child to stick the numbers 1-12 around the paper plate like a clock (they can look at a clock to help them).
  2. Now they cut out two triangles – one should be short and fat (the hour hand), the other longer and thinner (minute hand).
  3. Help them push a split pin into the middle of the plate to hold the hour and minute hand in place.
  4. Now get them to make a list of all the things that happen in their day – eg. get up, have breakfast, go to school, have lunch, come home, play, have dinner, go to bed.
  5. Now they cut out pictures from the magazines to represent each event. For example, for lunch they might choose a picture of fish fingers. Or for bedtime, they might choose a night sky.

Now try these activities with the clock:

  1. To introduce the basics of time, put the minute hand on 12 and then ask your child to move the hour hand to show these times: 1 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 5 o’clock, 9 o’clock.
  2. Can your child point the hour hand at a number and tell you the time (keep the minute hand on 12)?
  3. Talk about the things they do in their day and what time they happen. Help them put their event stickers around the clock. (They could add them when an event happens and look at the time to make this more real for them).
  4. If they’re starting to grasp the basics of time, you could move on to moving the minute hand. Start with half past. Move on to quarter past and quarter to. You could make new labels to show these.

2 Watch to wear: this cool watch introduces digital time.

You’ll need: a strip cut from a cardboard tube, a cup cut from an eggbox, paint, a sticky label, a pencil or pen

  1. First your child paints the egg cup, which will become the watch face. And the strip of card, which will be the watch’s strap.
  2. Now they write the time on a sticky label and cut it out. Help them to copy the time from a digital clock. You could show them how it looks on a clock with hands, too.
  3. Once the paint’s dry, they stick the time on the clock face, and glue that onto the strap. That’s it!

Extend the activity… Keep a stash of sticky labels nearby for them to write new times on and stick to their watch.


3 Race against time

Set a timer on your phone and challenge your child to race through a task. You might ask them to get dressed, do star jumps or tidy up (yes, this!). Write down together how long it took. Then set them a new task.

4 Time challenge

You know when you say to your kids, “in a minute!” And then they ask for something again 10 seconds later? Help them understand how long a minute really is by setting them task to keep doing for that long. Colouring, jumping, clapping – it’ll feel like a lifetime to them! But, you know, it’s an important life lesson.

5 What’s the time, Mr Wolf?

If you’ve got more than one child to entertain (or you’re feeling energetic), teach them to play What’s the Time, Mr Wolf? The wolf faces the children, who ask him what the time is. He says different times (1 o’clock, 2 o’clock) and the children take that many steps forward. Until the wolf shouts “Dinnertime!” Then they run away before he can catch them.