10 Facts about the Clocks Changing

From Big Ben in London to the Corpus Chronophage in Cambridge, the UK has some of the world’s most famous and interesting clocks. We were one of the first countries to standardise time throughout a region (what we know as Greenwich Mean Time or GMT) and we’re one of several countries in the world to change the clocks according to the seasons.

Daylight saving time allows us to enjoy more daylight hours during summer and winter. In summer, we score an extra hour of light in the evenings, and in winter, sunrise arrives earlier. Clocks go forward an hour at 1am on the last Sunday in March, and back an hour at 2am on the last Sunday in October.

How about using the clock change to help children understand more about telling the time? Here are some interesting facts to get you started…

Who thought of Daylight Saving Time first?

In 1784 American inventor and statesman, Benjamin Franklin, had the bright idea of daylight saving as a smart way to save on candles. Over 100 years later in 1895 New Zealand astronomer and entomologist George Vernon Hudson suggested a two-hour shift backwards during summer to give him more time to go bug hunting after work.

However it was in 1907 after British builder William Willett published a pamphlet titled ‘The Waste of Daylight’ that the UK came around to the idea of daylight savings. Willet had been out horse-riding early one summer’s morning and noticed how many people were still asleep long after the sun was up. He suggested that turning the clocks forward during summer meant everyone could be up bright and early instead of snoozing away the daylight.

Learning tip: We found a printable worksheet from Twinkl to help children learn and understand more about why the clocks change.

When did Daylight Saving Time start?

In 1916 Germany became the first country to formally use daylight saving time (DST) to save on fuel during the First World War. The UK and several other European countries followed a few weeks later. Soon daylight savings became the norm, and the USA followed in 1918.

However, Canada beat everyone to it: In 1908 residents of Port Arthur, Ontario, turned their clocks forward one hour to start the world’s first daylight savings time.

Photo – GeoSafari® Jr. Talking Globe™

Learning tip: Learn more about Canada and other countries of the world using our interactive GeoSafari® Jr. Talking Globe™.

How many countries use Daylight Saving Time?

Only about 70 countries change their clocks and it’s mostly European and North American countries. When we’re changing our clocks to ‘fall back’ in the UK and Northern Hemisphere, they’re ‘springing forward’ in Southern Hemisphere countries like Australia and Namibia.

Photo – Giant Inflatable Labelling Globe

Learning tip: Check out our Giant Inflatable Labelling Globe to help kids learn continents and understand concepts including hemispheres and direction.

What happens when the clocks go back?

At 2am on the last Sunday in October every year, the clocks fall back an hour. Aside from gaining an extra hour of sleep for one night, it means we gain an hour of sunlight in the mornings because sunrise arrives earlier in the day.

Technically what happens is the UK goes from British Summer Time (BST) back to Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Did you know that until the mid-19th century, many towns kept their own local time using the sun as a guide? Many UK castles, cathedrals and towns have sundials. Here’s an article on some of the most interesting. Have you visited any of them?

The reason we use GMT today is thanks to the railways. British railway companies adopted GMT – ‘Railway Time’ as it was known in 1847 – to make timetables easier for station masters, guards and passengers to understand and follow. In 1880 GMT became Britain’s legal standardised time.

Picture of Learning Resources Tock the Learning Clock
Photo – Tock the Learning Clock™

Learning tip: Help children understand the abstract concept of time through hands-on play. Tock the Learning Clock™ is ideal for children aged 3-7 to learn all about time at home. Turn the clock hands and Tock will announce the time. Kids can learn how to read both digital and analogue clocks. Tock also has a night light so little learners know when it’s time to get out of bed.

Photo – Big Time™ Learning Clocks® Demonstration Clock

Big Time™ Learning Clocks® Demonstration Clock is perfect learning all about time in class. Hidden gears maintain the right minute and hour relationships as you demonstrate time concepts.

Have you found an interesting clock or sundial on your travels through the UK? Comment on this story and tell us where.

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