Clocks Go Back. But Why? How To Explain It To Kids

A boy holding a clock and looking surprised as his parents explain to him why the clocks go back.
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In the UK, clocks will be set back by an hour on the last Sunday of October. Kids, naturally, will have questions about why this happens. Here’s how to answer.

See also: How to teach a child to tell the time

Why Are We Changing The Clocks?

It’s a quaint old tradition designed to give us more hours of useful daylight in both summer and winter. “Daylight saving” started out more than 100 years ago as a way to boost productivity during the First World War. Not everyone thinks it’s still a good idea to mess around with the clocks twice a year, but it does have its advantages, especially for families.

Just before the clocks go back in late October, the sun rises in the UK at around 7.40am (it varies a bit depending where you are). After the change, it’s 6.40. Dawn is put back by an hour. Your journey to school will continue to be in daylight -- at least for the first part of winter.
During midwinter, the time of sunrise creeps up to 8.06am. That’s still early enough that many journeys will be in daylight. Without the clock change, it would be 9.06am -- meaning you’d almost certainly face a dismal journey to school. The other effect is to give us later sunsets in the summer, which means more outdoor fun after school or work.

To learn more about time and its measurement, take a trip to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

Whose Idea Was This?

American statesman and scientist Benjamin Franklin is usually credited as the first to suggest the idea, way back in 1784. Nothing came of it for over a century. Then, in 1895, a New Zealand entomologist (someone interested in insects) called George Hudson took up the call. He wanted more hours of daylight in the evening to spend bug hunting. The main tubthumper in Britain, meanwhile, was William Willett, from 1907. He too lobbied for longer evenings. The idea was eventually adopted in 1916 -- a year after Willett’s death. The extra hour of daylight helped to save coal during the First World War. You may not have heard of this man, but you’ll know his great-great-grandson, Chris Martin of Coldplay. Perhaps not by coincidence, one of Coldplay’s most famous songs is called Clocks. You can also track down a memorial to Willett in one of London’s best woods.

What Happens If We Forget To Change The Clocks?

All kinds of nasty time-goblins will crawl out of the walls and eat up all your toys. Only joking. Forgetting to put the clocks back an hour will mean you may turn up to school an hour early, and that would never do.  

So When Exactly Do The Clocks Change?

It’s 2am on the last Sunday of October which, this year, is 25 October. This means you get to travel back in time. We’ll all enjoy a perfectly normal hour between 1 and 2. Then, on the stroke of 2, the clock will spring back an hour and you’ll get to live those 60 minutes all over again. Of course, you’ll be fast asleep and won’t notice any of this. 

Normally, when the clocks go back, we are fast asleep as it takes place in the very early hours of the morning.

Aw, Poo. I Want To See The Clock Change Now. Can We Change Them NOW!?!

No.

Pleeeeeeeeease! Pleeeeeeeease! Mummy Said We Could. Pleeeeease!

Oh, OK then. Here, we can wind back the clock over the mantel piece, like this. But we can’t do the microwave clock. Nobody knows how to change the microwave clock.

Daddy, You Haven’t Changed The Clock On Your Phone. Why Haven’t You Changed The Clock On Your Phone? It’s Wrong

Ah, sweetest. Phones and tablets and computers all seem to know when it’s time to change their clocks. They’ll automatically switch back to 1am when the time comes. Of course, this means some things change on their own and others don’t, and we can never remember which is which and it all ends up being very confusing. But such is life.

When Will They Change Back To Summer Setting Again?

The last Sunday in March, when they’ll flip forward an hour at 1am. Remember it like this: Spring forward, then Fall back. 

During the winter months, the UK runs on Greenwich Mean Time. Then, from late March, we switch over to British Summer Time.


See also: How to get sleepy teenagers out of bed

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