Telling the time. Don’t overlook these hidden cognitive benefits!

Learning to tell the time is still an important life skill.

In a world where so many things are now digital, learning to tell the time on an analogue clock face may not seem like a priority. The good news is that it can hold the key to unlocking a treasure trove of transferable skills essential to cognitive development. 

We look at how we can promote student engagement and inclusivity by investigating some of the essential skills brought into play when learning to tell the time. Skills such as critical thinking, spatial awareness, and language development.

As an added bonus, we’ll share a couple of fun digital resources and games which can be used in the classroom!

Rainbow clock face

Don’t Overlook Analogue

We see visual representations of the time almost everywhere we go. With the rise in digital technology we have moved from traditional, mechanical timekeeping devices to more digital methods. We’re reminded of the time everywhere from smartphones and tablets to treadmills, microwave ovens and even digital water bottles! This constant reminder can make traditional analogue clocks seem antiquated and even outdated.

However, before writing them off too quickly, let’s investigate some of the skills which can be promoted through learning to tell the time the traditional way.

Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Reading an analogue clock forces us to analyse the relationship between the hour hand, the minute hand, and their respective positions so that we can interpret their meaning.

Whilst this process might come as second nature to many adults, it actually involves several cognitive processes. Those learning to tell the time have to think logically, and systematically to deduce the current time based on the relative positions of the hands of the clock and the numbers.

Critical thinking involves taking data, analysing it and drawing conclusions based on reasoning. The processes employed in this can be applied other classroom activities and tasks which involve a degree of problem solving. Enhancing this skill helps students access and understand information presented to them more readily by helping them to synthesise information in a logical fashion.

Ultimately, students who are able to build strong critical thinking skills are better equipped to learn independently as they can identify gaps in their own knowledge, ask questions and seek out further information with which to solve problems and make informed decisions. This obviously has positive implications for both their academic and personal lives.

Memory and Pattern Recognition

Reading an analogue clock face involves recognising certain repeating patterns and the relationships between the parts of the clock and their positions as they revolve over time. Learning to identify recurring patterns within data upon which we can draw conclusions is a key cognitive skill.

Pattern recognition can be incredibly useful within the context of disciplines such as computer coding, mathematics and science. Being able to store and recall information in this way also helps to develop memory and information retention.

This fun telling the time game is designed to enhance some of the core skills around telling the time on a digital clock and an analogue clock face. Activities like this can also be suitable for those looking for telling the time activities for adults.

Time Management Skills

Aside from the mental skills involved in learning to tell the time, keeping track of the current time has implications for self-management and timekeeping. By reading the time, students can gain get a sense of how they might manage their own time. They will learn to ensure adequate resources are allocated to complete tasks and that deadlines can be met. Solidify these ideas by creating a visual schedule of a typical day with images, a description of the activities, and the time (a comic strip format can work well for this).

Understanding the importance of timekeeping can also help with personal organisation. As students gain an awareness of how long certain tasks take, they are able to plan their time accordingly. This allows them to prioritise activities and set reasonable deadlines, which is a skill that is essential to their future success.

Language Development

Vocalising the different times on a clock in a one-to-one or group setting can help with speech and language development. The repetitive nature of learning to tell the time helps to reinforce the association between the visual representation of numbers and their associated sounds and names. They also become familiar with words like “hour”, “minute”, “to” and “past” and how they can be used in their correct context and tense.

It also provides a fun opportunity to introduce time-based stories or songs to students. These can be used to practise both listening and speaking skills in addition to building their vocabulary.

An analogue clock also provides a great prop for learning to tell the time in different languages as students can link together the English sound, the foreign sound, and the visual representation of the number to solidify their understanding.

Interactive teaching clock tool for telling the time

Our interactive teaching clock can be a useful tool for teachers to assist with learning to tell the time. It features both analogue and digital modes so that students can observe the relationship between the two methods.

Telling the time and Mathematics

Learning to tell the time can also provide a foundation for many mathematical concepts including:

Basic Numeracy

Students can become familiar with number recognition, counting, and performing basic number operations.


The passing of time on a clock provides visual method for highlighting fractions, showing the difference between half past, quarter-past and quarter-to. Students can learn that each hour represents one-twelfth of the clock.

Geometry and Angles

Students can represent each interval of time on a clock face in degrees. For example, if a twelve hour period represents 360 degrees, one hour would be equal to 30 degrees. Similarly, if sixty minutes is represented by 360 degrees, five minutes would be equal to 30 degrees. Each minute would be six degrees, and so on.

They can develop an understanding of spatial relationships, rotations and angles. They can learn the differences between certain types of angle such as acute, obtuse and right angles. There are also opportunities to learn about symmetry.


As the measuring of time is marked with intervals, they can develop their understanding of units, scales and sequences.

Addition and subtraction

Once students understand that time can be counted forwards or backwards in minutes or hours, they can explore adding or subtracting time intervals to different moments in the day.


Time lends itself to mental arithmetic and reasoning questions to. A typical question may relate to a transport schedule (bus/train times).

Many of these concepts can be demonstrated in a fun way by incorporating games or activities

Embracing Time Telling in the Classroom

Tips for Parents and Educators

Teaching children to tell the time can be a valuable and rewarding experience for you and your children. With guidance and support, children can develop a cognitive skill set that benefits them in many aspects of their lives.

Introduce the concept of time early – Keep it simple to begin with. Introduce concepts like morning afternoon and evening. Then progress to markers of time such as hours, minutes, days, weeks months, years etc.

Start slowly – Introduce the concept of time and the difference between minutes, hours and days for example. Then move on to introducing the purpose of clocks as a means of tracking and measuring time. Perhaps prompt them to think of some situations where tracking time is important. Finally, introduce a clock as a physical object and familiarise them with each of the different parts and their uses. This should help give a solid foundational understanding for further learning.

Use visuals –  As well as using images, posters and worksheets to help with learning to tell the time, also give some thought to the types of clocks you use as teaching aids. Visually interesting, colourful types of clocks can make for a more engaging lesson.

Play games – These might include matching pairs games, time bingo, jigsaw puzzles of clock faces or memory games.

Apply it to the real world – Discuss time in terms of travel or time-management (planning a trip for example). Use cooking sessions as a chance to use time. Lots of recipes call for several time-critical steps in preperation and cooking. These can provide good live examples in which to test and apply their knowledge.

Build confidence – Learning to tell the time on an analogue clock is challenging and requires persistence. Positive feedback helps to boost confidence, enhancing motivation and engagement.

Always be on the lookout for clocks – Get children to spot different types of timekeeping devices when they are out and about.

Make clocks visible – Keeping clocks on display in the home or classroom can help as a visual reminder or prompt.

Experiment with routines – Homework schedules, activity plans and household chores can all be put on a chart and scheduled with times. Limits and rewards relating to screen time or games also highlight the importance of observing time.


Learning to tell the time on an analogue clock is still very much a relevant skill.

It nurtures cognitive skills, which are transferable to a range of subjects and disciplines, both academic and practical. So rather than being an outdated, redundant skill, it has real world benefits. It can enhance learning and engage students in the classroom.

Hopefully this overview has provided you with some fun ideas and strategies which can help unlock some of the many benefits of learning to tell the time.