The Lost Art of Telling Time

Dali Clock

Not to brag or anything, but my kid, he was one of the first in line when they were handing out the brains.

Wait, that is bragging, isn’t it?

Well, tough.  I call it like it is.

He has sailed through math this year, except for one chapter.

The chapter where he had to look at a clock face and figure out what time it was.

We had visited this concept last year, and I thought he had retained it. But, there was some frustration along with wrong answers at homework time. You see, my home has absolutely zero old-timey clock faces. And yes, I am going to label them old-timey. I don’t care if that makes you feel old.  If it does make you feel old, you probably are.  Again, telling it like it is.  Ahem, back to the story…

 If we had inherited a certain grandfather clock, then we would have one, but we didn’t and so each and every clock in the house is digital. The one on the microwave, the one on the stove, the DVR, all the bedroom clocks. And yes, I do have some watches, but wouldn’t you know, all of them needed new batteries and were thus useless in demonstrating how the big hand follows the little hand around in a circle. I found myself biting back a flippant, “You know, the hands go in a clockwise direction!”  Which of course, he really had no frame of reference for and would not have found the least bit enlightening.

Even though telling time on a clock face is second nature to me, my son has grown up with a distinct lack of them. There might be a few scattered here and there in his life, such as at the library, but not enough to make any impact upon him. He doesn’t even have one in his classroom.

So try explaining to someone totally unfamiliar with the concept of an old-timey (yes, yes, it makes me feel old, too) clock and how it works, and you are met with a blank stare. And possibly a question as to why anyone would use such a complicated time-telling device when you could just look at the numbers on a digital clock. 

We struggled a bit.

Eventually, of course, he got it, but I began wondering if telling time this way was already pretty much obsolete. And if, in this age of computers and cell phones, if reading a clock face is a skill that needs an entire math chapter devoted to it.

What do you think?

6 Responses to “The Lost Art of Telling Time”

  1. Awesome Mom June 9, 2010 at 9:21 am #

    It may be a fading art but I still feel it is important. After civilization collapses and the world as we know it ends how will our children tell time? I am willing to bet there will be a few spring run clocks around to help them out with the important task of telling time. :P

  2. Sarah June 9, 2010 at 10:18 am #

    I think it’s important, too… it’s a nice “just in case” skill. How many times have you been at the doctor’s office, or a classroom, or in front of Big Ben and wanted to know what time it was?

    Plus, learning to tell time is helpful in learning how hours, minutes, seconds are structured.

  3. Kimmer June 9, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Telling time is also useful when it comes to fractions, not to mention if the power goes out (none of our digital clocks have batteries).

  4. Seana June 9, 2010 at 3:43 pm #

    Most public schools I have been in (both as a student and as a parent) have analog clocks on the walls. As the kids anticipate bells ringing for recess or end of school, they will learn to read a clock.

  5. J June 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm #

    My daughter was also quite late in picking this skill up. It may have been middle school, with so many classes, so many bells, that finally did it for her. This used to bug me, but I’ve let it go. She survived without the skill, and now she has it at last. Whew.

    BTW, I bought her a toy clock for telling time, a watch that was designed to help learn time telling, and we have 2 analog clocks around the house. NONE of that helped. The only thing that helped was wanting to know what time it was at school, and when was lunch or whatever.

  6. Natalie June 17, 2010 at 2:18 pm #

    I have taught middle school and kids cannot tell time! At one district where I student taught, they had digital clocks in every classroom. The students could tell you what time it was, but could not figure out what time it would be 15 minutes later. When I had my own classroom (in a different district), I had an analog clock in my room. I asked my students to fill out their own hall passes for me to sign, and most of them could not read the clock. It frustrated me to no end, and I was tempted to take some of my precious class time (they loved to schedule assemblies during my classes since it was “just music” but that is another rant…) to explain how to read a real clock. They struggled with fractions, too, but at least I could use rhythmic notation to explain that.

    My child’s 5th birthday is coming up, and he is getting a cute analog Timex. We have 3 analog clocks at home, and I set my cell phone’s clock to look like an analog clock, complete with Roman numerals. We talk about telling time already, and he can figure out what hour it is. We’ll start talking about how to read the “big hand” soon.

    I prefer analog clocks because you can instantly tell what time it is and visualize how much time you need without doing any math (and I like math). Using one is actually a very efficient mental shortcut.