The methodology of learning the time

Learning the time on an analog dial is considered one of the hard subjects for elementary school children to integrate1. So difficult that in May 2018, England chose to remove analog clocks from middle schools. Many students simply could not gauge the time remaining on exams, creating anxiety in students and hurting their performance. However, the United States has taken a stand on this issue, choosing to continue analog clock instruction in American schools. So has Canada, as well as many countries around the world, where the education system continues and will continue to teach this learning, which is part of the science of mathematics. In fact, learning to tell time reinforces math skills!

In math you say? Yes, it does! Analog clocks allow the integration of complex mathematical concepts and lead children to develop various problem-solving strategies: addition, subtraction, fractions and leaps of 5 are examples. A clock is first and foremost numbers! Two series of numbers that are superimposed in rotation to form the passing time. Each moment of the day has two precise parameters, the hour and minute numbers. In fact, according to studies conducted by researchers2, a child who has difficulty mastering analog time at the beginning of his or her school career will probably have difficulties in mathematics later in his or her school career. This is a performance indicator to watch closely.

Here is a common situation from everyday life:

Kids, we have to leave in 15 minutes to go to dinner. Tell me what time we have to leave? To solve this problem, the child must answer several questions appropriately. First, they must be able to read the current time, 11:50 in our example. Since the hour hand is almost on the number 12, many children will answer that it is 12:50 and not 11:50. Some will also mix up the 2 hands. Next, the youngster must determine whether the number 15 is added or subtracted. Then determine if the number 15 will be added to the hours or minutes. Yet, it’s so simple 15 minutes, you might say!

Here, the analog clock model allows the student to see that at 11:59 a.m., the hands move to 12:00 p.m. The minutes count down to 0. Therefore, one hour, or one complete revolution of the clock, is equal to 60 minutes and not 100, which is difficult for the child to anticipate simply by using a digital clock face.

Let’s take this exercise a step further! We could ask the child to represent the fraction of 15 minutes in an hour, therefore in 60 minutes. The 15 minute portion in 60 represents a quarter, ¼. Then, ask them to count the number of 5-minute leaps in 15 minutes. There are three 5-minute leaps in 15 minutes.

Learning about time also involves memory: the youngster must remember that there are 24 hours in a day, so the hour hand makes 2 complete turns of the dial in a day. They must also remember that there are 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a full minute. All these details make learning the time very complex, but essential!

Essential, knowing that to really integrate the notion of time3 , the child must first be able to read the analogical clock, which offers a global perspective of time, and knowing also that many parents do not have an analogical clock at home, we can consider that too often the learning of time relies entirely on the teachers.



  1. Brett Molina, USA TODAY,, 4 mai 2018
  2. Elise Burny, Martin Valcke and Annemie Desoete, Ghent University, «Running head: IMPACT OF MATHEMATICS DIFFICULTIES ON CLOCK READING», <>, 2011
  3. Boulton-Lewis, G., Wilss, L. et Mutch, S. (1997). Analysis of Primary Children`s Abilities and Strategies for Reading and Recording Time From Analog and Digital Clocks. Mathematics Education and Research. Vol. 9, No. 2. 136-151
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