Math Background

Finding Time Intervals: Overview

The concept of time is a mathematical and social skill. In today's society, children will need to be able to read a traditional analog clock as well as a digital clock. They also need to understand, read, and use a calendar.

In general, understanding time is difficult for children because it is an abstract concept. Ordering events and using words such as before, after, first, second, third, last, longer, and shorter will help children develop the meaning of time. When they explore and create clock faces, they will gain understanding of order on a clock and the representation of time. Relate what children know about the order of numbers on a clock. Ask questions such as: What hour will always follow nine o'clock? What hour will always come just before seven o'clock? Have children use model clocks to show various times for activities during the day.

Children will learn to tell time to the hour and half-hour. They will see that the hour and minute hands help them to tell time on an analog clock. For time to the hour, the hour hand points to the hour, for example 4, and the minute hand points to the 12. In this case, the clock shows 4 o'clock. A digital clock shows this time as 4:00, the colon separating the hour from the minutes.

To show time to the half-hour, the minute hand points to the 6, or halfway around the clock. The hour hand points halfway between two numbers on the clock. If the hour hand points halfway between 2 and 3, and the minute hand points to the 6, the time is half past 2. A digital clock would show 2:30. Since it takes 60 minutes for the minute hand to go around the clock, 2:30 means that the hand has moved 30 minutes or halfway around the clock from 2 o'clock to half past 2.

The most meaningful way for children to learn to tell time is through daily experiences. Include references in your conversations, such as: We need to be ready for lunch in 2 hours. Our music class lasts for 1 hour. What time will the bus be here? Although children hear many references to time, they often need many experiential activities to relate to the concept of a minute and other intervals of time. Numerous opportunities arise during your school day to discuss the order of events and the passage of time. Utilizing these opportunities will help your children internalize these concepts.

When children begin to use a calendar, they will understand other important intervals of time—the day, week, month, and year. Using a calendar, have children become familiar with the name of the month, the days of the week, and the number of days in the month. Ask questions that identify a date and its unique position in the month. For example, on a March calendar, the last day of the month is March 31st. It may be the last Wednesday in the month, and it may be one of five Wednesdays in the month. You can also point out to children that some dates are also holidays.


Houghton Mifflin Math Grade 1