Reading and Representing Time

Reading and Representing Time

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Introduction to Reading and Representing Time

Being punctual for work, meetings, making deadlines, going to the movies, all these activities require us to have an innate understanding of time. These are the good habits that make us valuable employees and decent people overall. All of these attributes are built on being able to tell time and organize ourselves accordingly. That is what makes this topic so important. Time is not only mathematically important, but also a crucial life skill.

What is time?

Time is a concept that is at once measurable and also infinite. That seems like a very vague statement doesn’t it? Well it’s also true. It all depends on where you set the starting point for your measurement. The universe is billions of years old, yet we don’t measure time in terms of the age of the universe, rather we measure time in more meaningful units. 
Before setting off into the world of reading a clock face, it is very important that children understand to differentiate certain activities based on the time of day. This helps them internalize the flow of time

How is it important?

Time Using a Clock

Reading a clock is a skill that’s easy to master with a little time and effort. With some practice and Cuemath’s easy steps, your child will be reading clocks with ease.

First of all, every day has 24 hours. 

The clock is divided into 12 sections with each section designated with a number. Every clock shows numbers and has two ‘hands’, which are called the hour hand and the minute hand.

A regular clock

The small hand marks hours and the long hand minutes. The hands point to a number and the combination of hour and minute hand facing numbers give us the time. 


5 minute segments

The sections between numbers are divided into 5-minute segments. The minutes start with 0 at 12, and for every number thereafter, the minute hand represents 5 minutes. 

Let’s start with a basic example. Look at the hour hand in the picture below. It points at 9, so the hour is 9 and looking at the minute hand which points at 12 gives us the time 09:00 or 9 O’clock.

09:00 on a clock

Let’s raise the level a little bit, observe the image below.

Changes in hour hand as the minute hand keeps on rotating

With every minute that passes, the hour hand would have covered some of the distance between 1 and 2. When the minute hand would have started at 12 and completed one circle back to 12, the hour hand would have gone from 1 to 2. Since each small section comprises of 5 minutes, the time that has passed is 12 x 5 = 60 minutes.

So, if the minute hand were at four instead of six, the minutes passed would be 4 x 5 = 20 minutes.

So, this makes it clear that 1 hour is equal to 60 minutes. From 12 to 1, 2, 3 and so on till 11 and then 12, the hour hand crossing 1 number represents an hour. The movement of the minute hand from one number to the other on the clock shows a movement of 5 minutes. 

See an additional really thin hand on the clock that is rotating really fast? It represents seconds. Every minute consists of 60 seconds. Given below is a table on time conversion:

1 Day

24 Hours

1 Hour

60 Minutes

1 Minute

60 Seconds

Terms related to Reading of time 

  1. Half past: half an hour after the stated hour
    For example, 05:30 is half past five

  2. Quarter to: 15 minutes before the stated hour
    For example, 05:45 is quarter to six

  3. Quarter past: 15 minutes after the stated hour
    For example, 05:15 is quarter past 5


AM and PM

From 12 O’clock at midnight to 11.59 in the morning, the time is referred to as a.m., which can be called late night and morning. 

From 12 noon to 11.59 in the night, the time is referred to as p.m., which can be called afternoon, evening and night. AM stands for Ante Meridiem (before noon), and PM stands for Post Meridiem (afternoon).

12 Hour vs 24 Hour clock

There are two ways in which we express time. 

  1. 12-hour format, in which we need to take the help of AM and PM to describe time properly. So, if it is 20 minutes past 9’oclock in the morning, it is 9.20 AM. But at the same time in the evening it would be described as 9.20 PM.

  2. 24-hour format, time is described as 24-hour period. So, 9.20 AM would be written as 0920 hours, whereas 9.20 PM would be described as 2120 hours. In this case, the number being pointed to by the hour hand is 9 and thus add 12 to 9 which gives us 21. The minutes in 24 hour and 12 hour format remain the same, which gives us the time 21:20 or 2120 hours.  How did we get the 21 here? From midnight, 12 hours pass by until 12 noon, and then 9 hours twenty minutes after 12 noon. 

Practice at Home

Kids can also practice with parents at home. Parents can sit down with their children and play around with a clock. Ask your kids to show different time on the clock and gently correct their mistakes if necessary.

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