Telling Time to the Hour and Half-Hour

by Laurie Laurendeau on May 1, 2012

Telling time isn’t as simple as it seems.  There are several underlying skills that your child must have before he can successfully tell time.  If your child is having difficulties with telling time, or if he is about to begin, please be sure he has mastered the following skills before you begin teaching him to tell time:

  • There are two different kinds of clocks: digital and analog (with hands).  Your child is likely more familiar with digital clocks, but it is important that he can read both kinds of clocks.  See my previous blog on telling time in two different ways for more on this.
  • Counting by 5’s: It is important that your child can count by 5’s so he can count the minutes around the clock.  Too often I see children trying to learn to tell time on an analog clock without first knowing how to count by 5’s.  This is important!
  • A “quarter” and a “half”: Be sure your child understands what a half (of the clock) looks like, as well as a quarter (1/4) of the clock.  We use these terms when we read analog clocks.
  • 60 minutes is an hour:  Be sure your child knows that there are 60 minutes in an hour (and preferably that there are 30 minutes in half an hour!)
  • Clockwise:  Point out which way the hands go around the clock.

I am going to concentrate on teaching your child to tell time on an analog clock (clock with hands), since telling time on a digital clock is simply reading the time, which doesn’t necessarily mean your child really understands time…

  • If you have access to a play clock, the kind that when you move the minute hand, the hour hand moves automatically, that is ideal.  If not, you will want to try to make a simple clock using a paper plate, some heavy cardstock for the hands, and a metal brad fastener to attach the hands.
  • Be sure to point out that the clock has a long hand and a short hand.  The long hand counts the minutes, while the short hand keeps track of the hours.  A little trick to remember this is the word “hour” is a short word, so it corresponds to the short hand, and the word “minute” is a longer word, so it corresponds to the long hand.
  • Concentrate on telling time to the hour first.  Point out to your child that when it is exactly “something” o’clock, the minute hand is always pointing straight up at the twelve, in the starting position.  The hour hand is doing his job by pointing to the correct number to show the hour.  Practice telling time to the hour by showing various times on the clock while your child tells you the hour (ex: 5:00, 9:00, 11:00, and so on).  If you feel like your child is ready, let him make the time on the clock as you tell him various times to the hour.
  • Once your child understands time to the hour, begin working on time to the half hour.  Draw a clock on a piece of paper, and draw a vertical line from the 12 to the 6.  Tell your child that you just divided the clock in half.  Tell him that when the minute hand travels half way around the clock, it is pointing at the six.  It is no longer (ex: 2 o’clock), but half past 2.  The minute hand traveled half way around the clock, and therefore it is halfway to the next hour, which will be 3 o’clock.
  • Take the minute hand and count by 5’s as you move it from the 1 to the 2, 3, 4, 5, and finally 6.  Show how you counted to 30, because 30 minutes is half of an hour.  Show some other half-hour times on the play clock.
  • Be sure to move the hour hand half way between the two hours as you move the minute hand (play clocks may do this automatically).  I always tell kids that the hour hand is kind of lazy, and he takes a whole hour just to move from one number to the next, while the busy minute hand zips all the way around the whole clock.  It is important that your child notices that the hour hand is only pointing directly at the hour when it is exactly something o’clock.  As soon as the minute hand leaves the upright position, the hour hand starts creeping toward the next number.  When it is half-past, the hour hand should be halfway between the two hours.  This often poses problems to students as they try to tell time to the half hour.  If your child is having difficulty knowing what hour to say when telling time to the half hour, ask him to always look for the last hour that the “hour hand touched”.
  • Now see if your child can tell you various times to the half hour as you show them on the clock.  Then, tell him some times and get him to show you the times on the play clock.
  • Finally, be sure your child knows that you can either say “half-past four”, or “four-thirty” when telling the time.


  • As always, playing math games at home is a great way to reinforce math skills learned in school.
  • Have questions or ideas about this story?
  • Need help or advice about your child’s learning?
  • Have ideas for future Parent Homework Help stories?

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