Skills of Tomorrow

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Telling Time

Old school: Analog
New skill: Digital

While most first-graders are taught to tell time both ways in class, those days are likely numbered. Easy-to-read digital clocks are everywhere—on cell phones, cable boxes, computers, microwaves—while the kind with ticking hands increasingly plays a role that's decorative rather than functional.

However, traditional timepieces do have one distinct advantage: The numbered face gives kids a more visual representation of time in seconds, minutes, and hours. "A clock or watch that shows the movement of the three hands can be a valuable tool," says Kathryn Chval, Ph.D., associate dean for academic affairs in the college of education at the University of Missouri, in Columbia. "Kids get a sense of how quick a second is and how long a minute seems."

It doesn't take a lot of class time for kids to crack the code of those glowing LED numerals. As soon as they learn how to read numbers, they simply need to remember that the ones to the left of the colon represent hours while those to the right are the minutes.

But the analog concept—the distance between two consecutive numbers on a clock face is five minutes (for the long hand) and one hour (for the short hand)—is more challenging to grasp. To help your child pick it up, try using the Jungle Time app (for iPhone and iPod touch, $1, and iPad; $3). Or you might decide it's not worth the effort, since analog may go the way of the sundial. Your call. Either way, be sure to introduce some activities that demonstrate the passage of time. You can challenge your child to track how long she spends doing different activities (such as watching TV, playing, and doing homework) during a typical day. And let her experiment with a variety of timekeepers, such as an hourglass, a stopwatch, and a kitchen timer.

math problem

Are You Better at Math than a Third-Grader?

Grab a pencil and paper to complete this problem: 932-356=____. Be sure to show your work!

Done? We know you got the right answer (576), but you probably worked the problem from right to left, "borrowing" from the adjacent column as needed. Today's grade-schoolers learn different methods for subtraction, including one that works the opposite way (from the hundreds to the tens to the ones).

Proponents of this "reform math" say it gives kids a better grasp of the underlying concept. Like it or not, the changes can make a parent feel downright ignorant. "It's one thing if you can't help your high-school kid with his homework, but it's quite another when you can't help your third-grader," says Dr. Kathryn Chval.

When your child is stumped, try some prompts to get him going ("What have you come up with so far?"). You might also skim through his math book to see how it's taught. If you can't figure out the new method, let his teacher know. She won't think any less of you—chances are she was once a borrower too.

Originally published in the February 2013 issue of Parents magazine.

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