Math at Home Math Access for Teachers
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CME Group Community Foundation



Telling Time

Children will tell time to the hour and recognize at what time familiar activities take place.  

Content Area Standard Target
  • Measurement
  • Understand measureable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement
  • Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements
  • Recognize the attributes of length, volume, weight, area and time
  • Understand how to measure using nonstandard and standard units
  • Select an appropriate unit and tool for the attribute being measured
  • Use tools to measure
  • Develop common referents for measures to make comparisons and estimates
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Obtain materials Obtain the Materials
  • The book, Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper
  • Paper plates
  • Brass fasteners
  • Big & little arrows that will represent the minute and hour hands.  The hour hands (the short arrows) should be one color and the minute hands (the bigger, longer arrows) should be another color.
  • A Judy clock


Note: Small parts create a choking hazard for children. Make sure that all materials you choose to use for an activity or lesson with children meet safety requirements. Small parts are not appropriate for children who are 5 years of age or younger.

Introduce the activity Introduce the 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 do you go to bed? 
    • What time does school start? 
  2. Demonstrate the times 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, as well.  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 6 making the time 3:30.  Say: “See, now we have made it half way 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 making the time 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 or her own clock to help tell time.  Let the children know that after they finish their clock, the class will read a story, Telling Time with Big Mama Cat and will use their clocks to help Mama Cat tell time.
Engage the children Engage the Children
  1. Pass out paper plates, brass fasteners and clock hands to each child.
  2. Assist the children when assembling their clocks.  Have them look at the Judy Clock to see what numbers go where.  It is important that the numbers on the clock are different from those of the minute and hour hands.  Green would be a good color.  Once the numbers are all written in their correct places around the clock, attach the minute and hour hands to the center of the clock using the brass fasteners.
  3. Check children's clocks to be sure each can move the hands around so that the they will easily be able to manipulate the hands and align them with the correct time.
  4. Once the children are all finished with their clocks, have them gather on the rug with their 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 one)
    • “Very good.  Now, the shorter, littler hand is the Hour Hand.  What number is the Hour hand pointing to?” (the eight)
    • “Very good.  Now, if the Hour Hand is pointing to the 8 and the Minute Hand is pointing to the one, that means it is 8:05.”  Use the Judy Clock to model the time and the movement of the minutes.
    • “Remember the Minute Hand shows how many minutes after the hour there are.” 
    • Position the clock at 8:00.  “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. “One, two, three, four, five.  The Minute Hand has moved 5 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)
  5. 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?”  
  6. 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?"
  7. 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 6 and the Minute Hand points to the 12 – 6:00.  Let’s read on…”
  8. 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. 
  9. Emphasize the short, littler hand being 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 on them.  (Clocks that have no hands but have the numbers and the clock face.)  Have the children make their own Telling Time with Big Mama Cat book.  Have the cover of the book be: Telling Time with (name of the child).  On each page, the child can write in the time that they do certain activities during his/her day.  The children can draw a picture to accompany the time they are showing on the clock.  For example: At 7:00, I wake up. The child will draw the Hour and Minute Hand onto the clock showing 7:00 and then draw a 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 time 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.
Encourage vocabulary Encourage Vocabulary
  • Time The measured or measurable period during which an action, process, or condition exists or continues (e.g., "At what time to 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 sixty 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.")

Glossary of MATH vocabulary

Make adaptations Make Adaptations

Supporting Children at Different Levels

Toddlers   Pre-K

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.
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Pre-K Children may:

  • Be able to tell the time on the hour.
  • Be able to connect the time with the part of the day their activities happen.

Home child care providers may:

  • Help the children write their numbers around the clock.  Provide number examples so that the children can copy the appropriate numbers.
  • Fasten the Minute & Hour hands onto 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 them as they are manipulating the hands to correspond with the time.


Home 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 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.


Books Books
  • Telling Time with Big Mama Cat by Dan Harper (New York: HMH Books, 1998)
Music and movement Music and Movement
Outdoor connections Outdoor Connections
  • Drawing inspiration from Claude Monet, have the children go outside and sketch the same scene at different times of the day.  For example, 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 a conversation about how the light changes throughout the day.
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