What’s the time Rory Wolf?

The teenager can’t tell the time. 
At all. She has absolutely no clue. Nothing. No concept of seconds, minutes or hours, no grasp of quarter past, quarter to, half past, five past, twenty past. Nothing. She doesn’t understand any of it. She can’t tell you how long an hour and a half is or 3 hours or anything. She doesn’t even know how many hours are in a day. If we tell her bed time is in 10 minutes, she just stares blankly at the clock, and cannot tell us where the “big hand” will be when those 10 minutes have passed. 

I’m at a loss. Regrettably, I completely lost my shit when I told her to put her soup in the microwave for 90 seconds, and she just pawed at the buttons before deciding that 3 minutes was a better time and skulking out of the kitchen with her incandescent soup. I asked her to tell me how many minutes 90 seconds is, and she just stood there, blank face, wringing her hands together. I broke it down for her. How many seconds in a minute? So if you have 90 seconds that’s a minute (60 seconds) and 30 seconds added together. 30 seconds is half a minute, so how long is 90 seconds? 

 Uuum. 3 minutes? She says. 

She just stands there, “lights on, no one home” staring in to nothing. She shuts down. She stops reacting to everything and anything, almost trance like. I don’t know if this is a defence mechanism, it probably is, but it infuriates me to the point where I want to slap her as hard as I can, and tell her to stop being so dumb (or insolent, or whatever she is being) . (I will never do either, although I’m ashamed to admit I have shouted a few times) 

Today, to try and avoid a meltdown, we tried a different approach. We made learning to tell the time “fun” we went Montessori inspired, we had a whiteboard marker pen and scribbled all over the patio doors, with various badly drawn clock shapes, we added big hands and small hands to clocks to depict the time written above them, we added 10 minutes, we took away 15 minutes. We looked at 1/4 1/2 and 3/4 of an hour and learnt the minutes they represent. It went well for 5 minutes. Then just like that, the trembling bottom lip, the blank stare, the clenched fists and the angry voice shouting “I can’t do it” pushing past me and running upstairs. 
She was doing great. She got all the times right, she put the big hands and small hands in the correct place, she was happily telling me that 7.50 becomes 8 o clock if 10 minutes have passed, and just like that, out of nowhere. She had a meltdown, like all of a sudden she realised she didn’t want to be doing this, and running away was the only option. 
So here I am , on a Saturday afternoon, trawling the Internet for primary school level “time telling” worksheets whilst simultaneously looking up maths tutors, and wondering if maybe she has dyscalculia, or if she’s just so used to not being helped, that now she doesn’t want to learn. 
I will be speaking to the school on Monday. She’s in top set for everything, but panics and tries to “pull a sickie” on days where she has a maths lesson. There’s definitely a deep deep problem with numbers and maths in general, which is quite clearly directly correlated to her not being able to tell the time, or even weigh out ingredients when we’re baking. 

This is a big one and a tough one. Being able to tell the time is huge. How can we let her go and play with friends if she has no concept of what “be home in 2 hours” means? 
I’m so angry. Not at her. Just that she’s been allowed to get to 13 years of age without any help or encouragement. Without anyone stopping and taking the time to tell her or explain to her how something works. For the old school in France telling her “to do some colouring” if she didn’t understand. For mum saying “ugh, maths, I hate maths” or “ugh no, I can’t do that, that’s ridiculous” whenever Claire did get any homework. I feel like she’s not only been let down, but been allowed, to some extent to be lazy, to not try and learn, because it was ok for her to not bother. I’m angry because for her, maths has been turned in to this big scary monster that she has no hope of ever conquering. 

Baby steps. We will get there. She will overcome her fear. Even if she needs therapy, or whatever. She will soon thrive in Maths in the same way she thrives with languages or science, or geography, and hopefully, conquering maths will conquer her shyness, will crack that last little part of her shell and let her blossom in to a confident young woman. 
Update: 18 months on. Maths is no longer a monster. She can read a clock. She’s still not at the level you’d expect an almost 15 year old to have, but now she has a willingness to learn, and I have more patience. She is now almost at a level where she will pass her GCSE maths and that is a huge relief. 


6 thoughts on “What’s the time Rory Wolf?

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  1. Zoe my daughter has a complete block with numbers and having tested her for everything and knowing that like your daughter she is perfectly amazing at everything else her and maths are not a natural subject. i am just praying she gets a pass at GCSE and I will be relieved. The upside is they both have inquisitive minds so we should be happy! Good luck. Thanks for joining us again. #TweensTeensBeyond

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  2. This is a very interesting point. I wonder whether some kids are just not ‘maths’ people – and that is fine because we are all different. Or do they pick up on negative feelings about maths and just declare that they are no good at it because it challenges them at that time. Whatever the answer, I’m glad your teen can tell the time now and is on her way to maths GCSE. Thanks so much for linking up at #TweensTeensBeyond.

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  3. I’m shocked by our children’s inability to tell the time. I thought it was just mine. It’s back on the homework again this week and once more I shall be recreating a clock. The digital side of things has done nothing to help this. I don’t remember learning or when but I did. In teaching my daughter, I can see how hard it is to grasp but as you say, having no regard for time, is not a favoured route for when the independence starts. Thanks for sharing with us at #TweensTeensBeyond Nicky

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  4. Au contraire, Mother spent a great deal of blood, sweat and tears trying to undo Claire’s confusion with numbers. We did all the making clock faces, big hand, little hand, how many minutes in an hour, halves and quarters, even the 24 hour clock. Not to mention Times Tables, using a tape measure, weighing ingredients, using money and any other practical maths exercises I could sneak in. Ad Infinitum. Only difference is, I didn’t rant it public about my frustration.
    A key element of the Montessori Method is the awareness and use of “sensitive periods”. Essentially it means that a child will learn certain things readily and easily at certain times. Otherwise it’s the banging your head against a wall situation. It doesn’t mean that a child is stupid or lazy because they fail to grasp things which come easily to adults.
    I couldn’t tell the time properly until I made myself learn in my late 20’s. I still managed to get a grade B in “o” level Maths. Plus 3 “A” levels and a degree in French.
    We can’t all be good at everything, but we can be motivated to do our best. Or not.
    I’ll conclude with this quote from Morton Schlatmann’s book “des assassins de l’esprit”

    “Débile, inconscient,idiots. Ce vocabulaire est meurtrier. Il immobilise les destins. Il désespère les parents. Il décourage les efforts éducatifs. Il dresse des barrières.”


    1. “Ranting” in public has been most helpful actually, because it has made parents/carers and even teachers with similar experiences with pupils give me pointers as to where and how we can get additional help for her.

      I didn’t write it to make you justify yourself I wrote it because this is new to me, and the general public (or avid readers of my blog) can be the most wonderfully helpful people. Blogging is my way of asking for help, so I can in turn help Claire. She’s bright in so many subjects, and by the end of this school year maths will be one where she thrives too.


    2. Just to add, she got 2 house points in maths the other day, for being the first person to correctly complete a worksheet. She was so proud of her achievement, that she cried. But of course I’m not helping her. I’m just ranting on a blog.


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