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Teaching Children with Down Syndrome to Tell Time and Use a Clock

Updated on September 14, 2014

How to Teach a Child with Down Syndrome to Tell Time and Read Clocks

You can teach your child with Down syndrome to tell time and read a clock with these activities when they are practiced consistently. As the mom of two children with Down syndrome, these are the teaching methods that we found the most useful in achieving this goal.

Help Your Child Understand the Passing of Time

The first step to helping your child understand and tell time is to help them understand the passing of time. Talk to them about TODAY, and TOMORROW. You may do this each night at bedtime, discussing the events of the day and what to expect tomorrow. Another way to teach this concept is to pull a page off a daily calendar each morning. Many teachers begin each day by marking the current day, yesterday and tomorrow on a calendar.

Another way to become acquainted with the passing of time is to play commercial board games with a timer. Some of these games include Pictionary, Jr. Cranium Cadoo, Outburst Junior and Perfection. I recommend perfection because it is suitable for younger children.

Perfection from

See how quickly you can place the shapes in their slots before the timer goes off. The manufacturer suggested age for this game is 5 years of age. My children with Down syndrome began playing it at age 9 to help them understand the passage of time.

Timer to teach time to children with down syndrome
Timer to teach time to children with down syndrome

Programmable Timers to Understand the Passing of Time

If your children with Down syndrome are slow to complete tasks, you may already know about timers. Timers help children to recognize how much time has passed while accomplishing a task, such as eating breakfast, taking a bath, or watching television. It alerts the child when time is almost up and it is time to transition to a new task.

These timers not only help children with Down syndrome learn not to dawdle, they can help them better understand the passing of time and prepare them to learn to read a clock. Talk to your child about the number of minutes that they have to complete a task when setting the timer.

PECS to Understand Time

At a very young age, it is a good idea to incorporate PECS schedules into your child's daily routines to help them better understand the tasks required in each routine, as well as helping them begin to comprehend time. Examples of how PECS can work well for young children with Down syndrome include tooth brushing steps; wet the toothbrush, put the toothpaste on the toothbrush, brush teeth, rinse toothbrush, etc. Having a visual representation, or PECS for each step helps the child understand the routine.

As a child enters school, their PECS schedule can include their daily routine. For example, reading, math, gym class, and recess. Placing a picture of a clock to designate the time beside the photo to represent the event will help the child associate clocks with the passing of time. As the child gets older they will begin to learn what time each event takes place by reading the clock next to the event on their PECS schedule.

teach children with down syndrome to read a clock
teach children with down syndrome to read a clock

Reading a Clock

Anytime after a child can read the numbers 1 -12, they are ready to begin learning how to tell time on a clock. The clock they begin with should have an hour hand only, so as not to confuse them.

Ask the child what time it is. Have them tell you the time by reading the number the hour hand is pointing at. Remind them to answer by using the word "o'clock" after the number. For example, four o'clock. This can be done with a few different types of clocks including:

1. Worksheets with various clock faces with the hour hand only.

2. A homemade clock using a paper plate and numbers written around the perimeter of the plate with the hour hand secured to the middle of the plate with a paper fastener.

3. Another option is to purchase flashcards with clock faces on them. Be sure to select cards with only the hour hand.

Call out times and have the child with Down syndrome practice setting their own clock to the time given. This can be done with a homemade paper plate clock, or a toy clock that has only an hour hand.

Flash Cards to Teach Telling Time

1. Show children where the clocks are located in familiar rooms. Make a game of pointing out clocks in new locations.

2. Finally, explain to the child that if the hour hand is between two numbers to read it as the lower number.

These steps help a child with Down syndrome prepare to move to the next stage in learning to read a clock, which is reading the minute hand.

Introducing the Minute Hand

1. Begin by introducing pictures, worksheets, or flashcards of a clock with the minute hand present, but consistently positioned on the 12, or the "o'clock" position. This gets kids used to the fact that there is typically a minute hand, without adding any extra information. They need to get used to seeing the minute hand and understand that at the o'clock position, it's at the 12. They also need to understand that the hour hand, NOT the minute hand is used for reading the first number in time.

When the child has been reading clocks with the minute hand present and located on the 12 (o'clock) position long enough to be very comfortable, the next step will be to introduce to them movement of the minute hand.

Using a wall clock, observe the movement of the minute hand. Talk to the child about the minute hand passing by the twelve each time one hour has passed. Show the child how slowly the minute hand moves around the clock by checking on it's position periodically to get the feel for one hour of time passing. Celebrate the moment when the minute hand finally reaches the 12 position again. Play up this observation and routinely incorporate it into discussions with your child for several days, or weeks.

What Time is It? - From

Eeboo Time Telling Game
Eeboo Time Telling Game

Save yourself time and trouble finding teaching resources for telling time, by purchasing this game early on in the learning process. The cost is minimal from Amazon and it will fulfill many different purposes as your child progresses and learns. You can begin using it When your child understands how to read the hour hand and is ready to learn to read the hour of time as "o'clock" with the minute hand present.

What's in the box? The box contains four clocks that the child may use to set the time. There are also cards that are color coded. The red cards contain clock faces set to the hour. The blue cards contain clocks set to the half hour. The orange cards contain clock faces set to the quarter hour. The purple cards contain clock faces set to each 5 minutes. Finally, the green cards contain clock faces set to various minute times.

You can select only the cards your child is ready to use and let them practice setting their own clock to the time shown on the card. The opposite side of the card has a picture of a digital clock set to the same time.

Reading a Clock for a Person with Down syndrome
Reading a Clock for a Person with Down syndrome

Learning to Read Minutes on a Clock

A child with Down syndrome should be able to identify numerals up to 45 before proceeding to this step.

Label a paper plate clock with :15 at the quarter hour, :30 at the half hour, and :45 at the 3/4 of an hour positions on the perimeter of the clock. Have the child read each of the numbers. Practice reading the clock by moving the minute hand around the clock to one of the four positions: 3, 6, 9 and 12. Have the child say the hour first, then following with the correct minute position. (4:15, 2:30, 10:45, etc.) Keep practicing this step as long as it takes for the child to become comfortable with them.

Have them practice writing the correct time on worksheets with the time on the :15, :30, :45 locations of the minute hand. They should write the time as 3:00, 3:15, 3:30, and 3:45 for example.

Once the child is able to properly identify the time in these four minute increments, discuss with the child how this corresponds to a digital clock and the reading on the face of the clock.

When the child can count by 5s, you may move to identifying the positions of each 5 minutes around the clock (1-12). Place minute dots along the outer ring of the clock and explain to the child that one minute passes as the minute hand passes each dot. Show them that there are five dots between the twelve and the one and that each number 1-12 represents 5 minutes for the minute hand. Clearly identify :05 on the outer edge of the clock by the 1 position, :10 by the 2 position, etc. Have the child read along the perimeter of the clock, 5, 10, 15. Practice reading clocks to each of the minute settings.

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