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Like clock work, The National, 31.05.11

One mother tries out the Aramazu method of teaching children to tell the time and finds the journey a fast one, writes Jo Wadham

The search for a simple method of teaching children to tell the time has been going on since… Well, perhaps not since the beginning of time, but at least since clocks were invented. It is a notoriously tricky concept to convey to a young child, but a new theory has turned conventional time-teaching methods on their heads and claims to have fantastically fast results.

The Aramazu method of learning to tell the time transforms the clock face into a graphical map around which time must travel, climbing hour mountains and minute ladders. This novel visual concept was the brainchild of Jamie Rugge-Price, who worked over 20 years as a producer of documentaries for children on UK television. He came up with the idea while researching a programme on telling the time.

“When I delved into it I found it so complicated. We, as grown-ups, forget what a fearfully complicated thing it is to understand that clock,” he says. As well as researching the history of clocks in the British Museum, he interviewed those on the front line. “I spoke with about 20 teachers over a period of about six months and they all said the same thing: that it’s the most frustrating of all subjects to teach.

“I thought there must be a way to do it,” he says. “I used to drive up and down to London and one day I had this ‘eureka moment’ on the M4 and I thought ‘easy! If I make every hour in the shape of a mountain on the clock, then, very quickly any child can see what hour time is on.’”

The Aramazu method teaches that time moves around the clock face from the bottom of each “hour mountain”. The o’clock is at the top of the mountain, so as time climbs mountain 12, for example, it starts at half-past 11, climbs up to 12 o’clock (and every minute on the way is “to” the hour), then climbs down “past” the hour summit until it reaches half-past 12.

Minutes are then explained as being the stages of the climb up the hour mountain. “The logical thing was to say that the minutes are the steps that time uses to climb up and down the mountains,” explains Rugge-Price. “But they’re on two huge long ladders and the ladders are so big that we can’t actually get them on the clock face. So we’ve had to bend them round the outside: the ‘to’ ladder and the ‘past’ ladder.”

The hands of the clock are transformed into a finger for the hour hand, (“because fingers are good at pointing,” says Rugge-Price), and a foot for the minute hand, (“because feet are good at climbing up and down ladders”). To tell the time, children are taught to ask the clock three questions: “which ladder? (ie the ‘to’ or the ‘past’ ladder) Which minute? Which hour?”.

Rugge-Price was helped in developing Aramazu by Cheryl Hossle who was the head teacher of Rugge-Price’s daughter’s school in Oxfordshire. Over a period of three years, the documentary now a distant memory, Rugge-Price and Hossle tested and refined the Aramazu method.

The school had a two-form entry system that gave Rugge-Price a control group against which to measure the success of Aramazu. The results were encouraging from the start, as he explains: “At the end of the year, my class were 50 per cent ahead of the class learning the traditional way. I thought we had just got lucky, so we tried a second year. The second year, we finished and the other ones hadn’t really got halfway there; and by the third year, we were teaching them in a week. So we knew we had something.”

From there he went on to write the theory out in a three-part fairy story: The Land that Ran Out of Time, Aramazu Finds the Hours and Aramazu Finds the Minutes.

Children as young as four can be taught to tell the time using these books, provided they can count to 12. For older children who can count to 60, there is a fast-track book: Aramazu – The Learn to Tell the Time Right Now Book.

I decided to put the fast-track book to the test in Abu Dhabi, and Annabelle White, a mother of four young children, agreed to attempt to teach her six-year-old daughter, Juliette, using the Aramazu method. After a week, we met up to discuss the results.

After only four sessions, Juliette was able to tell the time on the Aramazu practice clocks in the book. The only drawback White found was that it was hard for her daughter to translate what she had learnt to a normal watch. “In fact, she managed to tell the time more easily on my watch that has nothing on it, than on hers. The minute numbers confused her,” says White.

Special Aramazu watches can be purchased on the website. Having the watches would be very useful, White suggests, for children to familiarise themselves with the concepts until they have mastered telling the time.

“I loved the concept of these mountains that they climbed up,” says White. “It definitely helped her to understand. It is such a clever way to think about it because that is the way you tell the time. It’s not from ‘five o’clock’; it’s from ’25 to five’, or ‘five to five’.”

The minute ladders worked well too. “She got that quite quickly: which side was ‘to’ and which side was ‘past’, but she doesn’t use the ‘foot, foot, finger’, ‘which ladder? Which minute? Which hour?”. That’s when it started getting too much. It was too much for her to remember.”

White, however, was pleased with the results and is thinking of using the book with her elder daughter, Eloise, aged seven, to revise her time-telling skills.

Rugge-Price is set on climbing his own mountains to increase the use of the Aramazu method in school curricula. He is currently writing a pantomime for schools based on the books, and has developed whiteboard materials for teachers including a narrated digital version of the stories.

If you do see the digital version, listen carefully to the narrator’s voice. She is Sara Mendes da Costa, a contact of Rugge-Price’s from his days in TV, and she couldn’t be more appropriate: she is the voice of the speaking clock in the UK.

For more information and to order copies of the books, visit www.aramazu.com.


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