Telling time the old-fashioned way

Telling the time from an old-fashioned round clock face is not always that easy. Many children have great difficultis learning to accomplish this everyday task and with more and more digital time readouts available on phones, in cars or on the plethora of other screens surrounding us, there is less pressure to learn to do so.But even if we can get by in life without being able to read a traditional clock, there are underlying causes to this difficulty that have much wider consequences, such as difficulties with mathematics (Dyscalculia), time management, organisation and even gross motor skills. Here I'll discuss some of the most common triggers that lead to this specific problem and give some suggestions of how you can help your child to develop this area.

Sense of time

If we have a poor sense of time, then any clock, analogue or digital, becomes rather irrelevant. Our sense of time resides in the left side of our brain while the right hemisphere is totally unaware of the passing of time. The left side is also good at planning, sequencing, the past and the future and extrapolating future consequences from past experiences. The right side of the brain is impulsive and is aware of the whole, but not the detail of any inflowing information. To be aware of time durations, plan activities or imagine future events, we need the left side of our brain to get fully involved and 'take charge'. Infants operate very much from the right side of the brain and are also clearly unaware of time. But from the age of four onwards, this sense of time mostly improves and the left side processing kicks in. But sometimes this shift in processing from right to left hemisphere is delayed, hence a poor sense of time. It is not uncommon in some adults and many artists, for instance, derive their creativity from using their right brain to the full, while being late for appointments and loosing all sense of time when they are working away. The SAS music programmes are specifically designed to strengthen the connectivity between the two side of the brain and can improve sense of time.

In addition of sensing the passing of time, we also need to be able to put time sequences in order, one after the other. Most of us will imagine a time line that stretches from the past, though the present and into the future. My time line starts behind me on my left, moves just in front of me (the present) and disappears into the far distance to my right ahead of me. Others will have a different time line though, from left to right, from right to left, up or down, the human imagination is varied and very personal. Some, and probably the children that find telling the time difficult, may not have made such a mental image at all. I guess that almost nobody will have a time line that goes round in a circle. But that's how the clock face has been designed - a very artificial construct. As an intermediate step it may be useful to introduce a linear, horizontal time line to your child, like the one depicted below. This may be much easier to imagine and with added pictures does not rely on reading ability. By using colours and shapes it is possible to start making a link to the round clock face.Linear Time Line Linear Time Line


Sequencing with beads Sequencing with beads[/caption]Once a child can imagine a time line, we are half way towards sequencing - put things in order and at distances that are relative to the passing of time. Sequencing is a universal skill which is required for understanding numbers, mathematics, planning and organisation. Using big and small beads of different colours can be a playful and enjoyable way of introducing sequences, like the days of the week with for instance five smaller beads for Monday to Friday and two bigger beads of a different colour for the weekend. Do the same for the clock face, big beads for 3, 6, 9 and 12, each interspersed with two smaller beads of a different colour for the intermediate numbers. Having such a string of beads allows for it to be used as a Linear Time Line, or shaped in a circle like a clock face.


Proprioception Proprioception[/caption]Linked to our sense of balance is our proprioceptive system, our sense of where we are in the space around us and how much effort is required to move our body parts. This is essential, for instance, if we want to walk through a doorway without bumping into the door frame, or when walking down a flight of stairs. Children or adults that often fall over or bump themselves, or that are 'clumsy', probably have difficulties with their proprioceptive system.The proprioceptive system receives input from sensors in the muscles, joints and tendons throughout our body and combines this feedback with information from our visual, auditory and balance systems. All this information needs extensive processing in the brain and is then compared with an internal body image.Proprioception is a key element in muscle memory and hand-eye coordination and can influence writing skills and the ability to catch a ball, for instance. A poor sense of proprioception can the the cause of Dyspraxia, clumsiness or poor gross or fine motor skills. Interestingly there is a close relationship between our ability to read a traditional clock face and our sense of proprioception. Improve proprioception and imagining a time line and sequencing also improves.A simple game to strengthen proprioception is to sit on the floor with four or five small items on the floor on your right side - you can use toy cars, a bracelet, a ball, etc. Now with the right hand pick up one of the items and move it to somewhere within reach on the floor on your left. Do this one by one for all items and then move the items with the left hand back to the right side. At first it's OK to look at the items, but gradually try to do it without looking, by looking straight ahead and finding the items by memory. This helps to strengthen the mental body with space around it image.© 2013 – Steven Michaëlis.
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