Telling Time

In this lesson, children will tell time to the hour and recognize the times that they engage in familiar activities.

Lesson for:

(See Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.)

Content Area:


Learning Goals:

This lesson will help toddlers and preschoolers meet the following educational standards:

  • Understand measureable attributes of objects and the units, systems and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools and formulas to determine measurements

Learning Targets:

After this lesson, toddlers and preschoolers should be more proficient at:

  • Recognizing the attributes of length, volume, weight, area and time
  • Understanding how to measure using nonstandard and standard units
  • Selecting an appropriate unit and tool for the attribute being measured
  • Using tools to measure
  • Developing common referents for measures to make comparisons and estimates

Telling Time

Lesson plan for toddlers/preschoolers

Step 1: Gather materials.

  • The book, Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper
  • Paper plates
  • Brass fasteners
  • Big and little arrows that will represent the minute and hour hands (The hour hands—or short arrows—should be one color and the minute hands—or long arrows—should be another color.)
  • A Judy Clock

Note: Small parts pose a choking hazard and are not appropriate for children age five or under. Be sure to choose lesson materials that meet safety requirements.

Step 2: Introduce activity.

  1. With the Judy Clock, ask the children: “Can any of you look at a clock and tell what time it is? Do you know what time you wake up in the morning? What time you go to bed? What time school starts?”
  2. Demonstrate the times that they mention with the hands on the Judy Clock. As you move the minute hand on the Judy Clock, the hour hand will move accordingly. Have the children notice this passage of time.
  3. Say: “Can you see that when I move the minute hand, the hour hand moves as well? When the minute hand moves all the way around the face of the clock, that means an hour has passed and the hour hand will move to the next hour.”
  4. Demonstrate how this happens with the Judy Clock. Starting at 3:00, move just the minute hand. Say: “See how the hour hand moves just a little as I move the minute hand?”
  5. Move the minute hand to the six, so the time reads 3:30. Say: “See, now we have made it halfway around the circle, half of an hour, and now the hour hand will start moving toward the next hour.”
  6. Move the minute hand to the 12, so that the time reads 4:00. Say: “The minute hand has made it all the way around the clock and the hour hand has moved to the next hour. It is now 4:00.”
  7. Explain that each child will make his/her own clock. Let the children know that, after they finish their clocks, the class will read the story, Telling Time with Big Mama Cat, and the children will use their clocks to help Mama Cat tell time.

Step 3: Engage children in lesson activities.

  1. Pass out the paper plates, brass fasteners and clock hands to the children.
  2. Assist the children as they assemble their clocks. Have them look at the Judy Clock to see where the numbers go. Tell them to choose a different color for each of the clock hands and to make the colors of the clock hands different than the colors for the clock numbers. Once the children have written the numbers in the correct places on their clocks, attach the minute and hour hands to the center of each clock using the brass fasteners.
  3. Check the children’s clocks to make sure the children can manipulate the hands with ease and align them with the correct time.
  4. Once the children are done creating their clocks, have them gather on the rug with the clocks. Ask: “Let’s look at the cover of our book. What do you see?” (A big cat, a clock) “Can anyone tell me what time the clock says?” (A few children might be able to read the time.) “The bigger, longer hand is the minute hand. What number is the minute hand pointing to?” (The 1) “Very good. Now, the shorter, littler hand is the hour hand. What number is the hour hand pointing to?” (The 8) “Very good. Now, if the hour hand is pointing to the eight and the minute hand is pointing to the one, that means it is 8:05.”
  5. Use the Judy Clock to model the time and the movement of the minutes. Say: “Remember, the minute hand shows how many minutes after the hour there are.” Position the clock at 8:00. Say: “When the minute hand is on the 12, that means it is on the hour. Now we will move the minute hand to the one.” Count the minutes moved in order to get to the one. Say: “One, two, three, four, five. The minute hand has moved five minutes and it is now on the one. We are five minutes into 8 o’clock. “What do you think Big Mama Cat does at 8:05?” (Sleep, lie around) “Do you think this is 8:05 in the morning or 8:05 in the evening?” (Answers will vary.)
  6. Begin reading the book. Say: “We are going to see at what time Big Mama Cat does what. When we come across a time in the book, we will also show that time on our clocks. Are you ready?”
  7. Read the first page: “Some people think cats don’t know much. But I, Big Mama Cat, know how to tell time.” Ask: “How many of you think that cats know how to tell time? Interesting…let’s find out if cats really can tell time. Big Mama Cat says she knows how to tell time. Otherwise, how would she keep her busy day on schedule?”
  8. Read “The day begins at 6:00 with a big stretch.” Say: “Let’s look at the clock in the picture. What number is the minute hand pointing to for 6:00?” (The 12) “That’s right. The minute hand points to the 12 when the time is on the hour. What number is the hour hand pointing to for 6:00?” (The 6) “That’s right. The hour hand points to the number that tells us what hour it is. Now, can everyone show 6:00 on their clocks?” Some children might need assistance moving their clock hands. Say: “Remember the hour hand points to the six and the minute hand points to the 12. Let’s read on….”
  9. Continue reading the book and stopping on each page to discuss the time and have the children change their clocks to the time displayed on the page. Each time displayed is on the hour, keeping the discussions simple.
  10. Emphasize that the short, littler hand is the hour hand and begin by having the children identify the hour of the time. Time is a mathematical concept that is revisited each year, each year adding another layer of complexity.

Additional Extensions

  • Make a book. Give the children paper with blank clocks (clocks that have numbers and the clock face, but no hands). Have the children make their own Telling Time with Big Mama Cat book. The cover of the book should read: Telling Time with (name of child). On each page, the children can write in the times that they do certain activities during their days. Then they can draw a picture to accompany the times shown on their clocks. For example: At 7:00, I wake up. The children will draw in their hour hands and minute hands, so the clocks read 7:00 and then draw picture of themselves waking up.
  • Using the clocks that the children made, ask a series of questions that require the children to show you the times on their clocks. Say: “We eat snack at 10:00. Can you show me 10:00 on your clocks?” Model this along with the children so that the children who are having difficulty grasping the concept can follow your lead and be successful in telling time.

Step 4: Vocabulary.

  • Time: The measured or measurable period during which an action, process or condition exists or continues (e.g.,”At what time do we eat snack?”)
  • Hour: A period of time equal to a twenty-fourth part of a day and night and divided into 60 minutes (e.g.,”The hour hand is the short, little hand.”)
  • Minute: A period of time equal to 60 seconds or a sixtieth of an hour (e.g.,”The minute hand is the larger, longer hand that points to the minutes of the hour.”)

Early Math Glossary

Step 5: Adapt lesson for toddlers or preschoolers.

Adapt Lesson for Toddlers
Toddlers may:
  • Have difficulty with the numbering of the clock face
  • Have difficulty manipulating the clock hands
  • Have difficulty differentiating between the hour and minute hands
Child care providers may:
  • Help the children write their clock numbers or provide number examples so that the children can copy the appropriate numbers
  • Fasten the minute and hour hands to the clock with the brass fasteners and make sure the hands move easily around the clock face
  • Emphasize the shape and color of each of the clock hands (remind the children as they are manipulating the clock hands to correspond with the time)
Adapt Lesson for Preschoolers
Preschoolers may:
  • Be able to tell the time on the hour
  • Be able to connect the time with the parts of the day that different activities happen
Child care providers may:
  • Begin to introduce minutes. Start with half an hour and teach that when the minute hand is on the 6, it means that half of the hour has gone and we read that as “half past the hour” or 6:30.
  • Correspond the time with the activities that the children do at that time. Provide a blank clock face and have the children write the time on the clock and then draw a picture of the activity they do at that time. Have the children make their own Telling Time books with this information.

Suggested Books

  • Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper (New York: HMH Books, 1998)

Music and Movement

Outdoor Connections

  • Drawing inspiration from Claude Monet, have the children sketch the same outdoor scene at different times of the day. Label their papers:
  1. Morning: 8:30 a.m.
  2. Noon: 12:00 p.m.
  3. Evening: 7:00 p.m.
  • Show the children Monet’s haystack series and explain that Monet painted the same object at different times of the day and even different times of the year. Encourage them to talk about how the light changes throughout the day.
  • Get or make a sundial. See if you can tell the time using the sundial. Compare the time on the sundial to the time on a clock.

Web Resources

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