Introduction: CountClock

About: Openproducts' focus is on design of new products and on innovative approaches towards improving existing products. An example: the CountClock, a concept facilitating children to learn telling the time. Purpose…

Imagine that you don't know the numerals: how would you then look at an analogue clock? The numbers mean nothing to you and the hands are pointing in all directions. The logic that people experience when looking at a clock (the minute and the hour hand, the half hours, the quarters) is unfamiliar to young children. This is even worse when the numerals are absent and just dots and stripes are shown on the scales, or even nothing...

That's how our kids get to know clocks. Grown-ups look at the device quite often and kids may be fascinated and perhaps even frustrated since they can't tell the time themselves.

For young children Openproducts developed the CountClock, which offers various learning steps to become familiar and intuitively understand telling the time. The CountClock is programmable from easy (count the hours) to a pro level (sharp to the second). The hour scale and minute scale are visually separated (no dual scales) and only discrete positions are shown, so unlike the analogue clock there are no hands that point between two positions.

The control of the LEDs is being done by an Arduino board, driving 12 (for the Hours Only version) or 72 (for the Hours and Minutes version) full-color LEDs. The only hardware feature of the basic variant of the CountClocks is a button on the backside, allowing to toggle between the various learning steps and display modes. This can be extended with multiple optional elements, such as a automatic dimmer for shading the LEDs, a bell that sounds the whole and the half hour, a device for keeping the time very precisely and a battery for cordless operation. This is all described in separate detailed Instructables, see the references further below.

The next step elaborates on the - for young children - confusing concepts around the conventional analog clock.

Step 1: Analog Clock Versus CountClock

An analog clock is not very intuitive to children starting to learn how to tell the time: it's easy once you know the concept, but when starting to learn telling the time it's a confusing instrument. Below, the analog clock characteristics are analyzed, and for each aspect the more intuitive approach from the CountClock is explained.

  • Mixed Scales.
    The dual scales are difficult to read from: first, one should know that the hour hand points to the inner scale (the hours, from 1 to 12), whereas the minute hand points to the outer scale (the minutes, from 0 to 59).
    The CountClock has clearly separated scales. Hours scale and minutes scale are visually separated by using two rings of lights. So it's easy to distinguish the hours (small diameter ring of lights) from minutes (only for the Hours \& Minutes version: the wide diameter ring).
  • Continuous Timescale.
    Most of the time, the hour hand does not point to exactly a single hour's numeral, but to a position in between two discrete figures. In such cases, young children may experience difficulties in deciding which hour the hand points to.
    On the CountClock dial, only discrete positions are shown. It is not needed to estimate the status of the CountClock because no intermediate values occur: a light in either on or off, there's no middle position.
  • Complexity.
    When learning to tell the time from a common analog clock it is needed to grasp multiple ambiguous concepts at the same time. It is hardly possible to decompose the clock into distinct learning steps, which makes it worse to understand the concept behind.
    The CountClock's unique selling point is its simplicity. The seven learning levels make it possible to start with the easier concepts (starter's level: only telling the {\it hour} of time) in order to decompose time-reading into separate learning steps. Elements of time-telling can be added gradually after each learning step has been completed successfully: the full hours, the half hours, the quarters, up to the minutes and the seconds. In the final learning step the precision of the time-scale equals the precision of the normal analog clock, and making the switch to the conventional analog clock becomes a piece of cake. In addition, the lights can be counted up easily, and children may simply count the number of minutes that represents a quarter (15 lights, thus a quarter is 15 minutes). Similarly, children can easily check that half an hour is made up of 30 minutes (because: 30 minute lights).
  • Halfs and Quarters.
    In common wording the dial is broken down into typical units: a `quarter of an hour' and the `half hour' being the most tangible. These units do not stand out from a common analog clock, one should just {\it know} how they are represented. This is confusing when learning to tell the time, especially when {\it three} quarters of an hour come into play.
    The CountClock has separate entities for half hours and quarters. In the early learning levels only the basic concepts of the clock are highlighted (half hours, quarters), at a price of not knowing the time exactly (which is not a problem for most children). Different colors modes allow to also represent `{\it three} quarters of an hour' as three separate quarters, colored differently. This makes it easier that the half hour is composed of two quarters. And on top of that it facilitates basic calculation: adding two quarters of each 15 minutes equals half an hour, which is 30 minutes. Lesson: 15 + 15 = 30. Other learning levels have similar mechanisms, for example the five minute steps (learning level 5) allow to practice the five-times table up to 11 x 5 = 55 (60 lights are never highlighted at the same time, analog to a digital clock).
  • To and Past.
    After having understood that a quarter of an hour is composed of fifteen minutes, it is still difficult to judge whether it is a quarter to or past the hour, especially when the child is not familiar with the the concepts 'clockwise' and 'counterclockwise'.
    Deciding whether it is a 'quarter to' or 'past' the hour becomes more intuitive with the CountClock because of the full circle that is expected at the full hour. For example: at a quarter past five a single quarter is shown, clearly indicating that it is 'five hours and a quarter'. At a quarter to five, only one quarter is 'missing from the minutes circle': it's a quarter to the next hour.
  • Need for Numerals.
    For telling the time it is required to know figures: the numerals 1 to 12 at least.
    With the CountClock, reading skills are not required, since counting is enough to read off time. No knowledge is needed on numerals, the characters 1 to 12 do not come into play.

In summary: the CountClock has clearly separated scales, unmistakable indication of hours and minutes, step by step learning levels, intuitive quarters and half hours, natural to and past and above all: knowing to count up to 12 is enough for interpreting the CountClock display.

The CountClock is programmable, which means that all aspects underlying an analog clock can be revealed step by step. Once the highest Leaning Level has been reached, the display is very similar to a conventional clock. Once children master this most difficult Learning Level, they should be able to smoothly read off conventional clocks as well.

Furthermore, two additional design elements facilitate the learning process and the step towards reading out an analog clock. Firstly, the CountClock dial is round, similar to the analog clock. Secondly, the positioning of the lights in the clock representing the hours correspond to the locations where the numerals in an analog clock are placed. In other words, the angles of the lights in the CountClock are comparable to the numeral's angles in a common analog clock.

The CountClock housing is made from wood, a natural resource, which lends the device a solid appearance. The housing is manufactured using CNC milling technique, which means that it is very accurately shaped.

What can be added here as an additional feature for this audience is that the clock is fully functional in the dark, perfectly suited for bedrooms as well.

The next steps introduce two versions of the CountClock:

  • CountClock with Hours Only
  • CountClock with Hours & Minutes

Both CountClocks have separate Instructables where the making is explained. Also, reference can be found there to the webshop, where CountClock Kits are available for making one yourself.

Step 2: CountClock Hours Only

The CountClock concept is to use small lights for indicating the time.

The CountClock Hours Only has a circle of twelve lights from which it is only possible to tell the hour: it's either one o'clock or two o' clock: nothing in between. Or three or four o'clock of course, and so on and so forth. For the lifestyle of small children knowing the hour usually is good enough: go to bed at seven o'clock, so when seven lights are on. Or: stay in bed until seven, so when seven lights are on.

A separate Instructable introducing the CountClock Hours version is available here:

An important educational aspect is that the lights of the passed hours remain on: this allows to count up to the current hour. Now you know why the design is called CountClock.

The next step intoduces the CountClock Hours & Minutes version.

Step 3: CountClock Hours and Minutes

Whereas the basic version of the CountClock only displays a circle of hour lights, the full version also shows the minute scale. This version has seven learning levels, explained below. The animated pictures above show Learning Levels 2 and 3:

  • Learning level 1 only shows the hours. Again: the fact that the passed hours remain on is a crucial educational aspect, allowing to count up to the actual hour.
  • Learning level 2 indicates the whole and half hours. The half hour is presented as a joined section, with all minute-lights 1 to 30 on. The underlying idea is that this makes the half-hour an entity.
  • Learning level 3 indicates the hours and 15-minute sections: in this way the quarters and half hours are displayed. To clearly present the quarters as individual entities the lights show different colors.
  • Learning level 4 shows the minutes divided into 10-minute sections and Level 5 shows the minutes divided into 5-minute sections.
  • Learning level 6 allows to precisely tell the time because the hours and all minutes are shown, including the second. Still, it is possible to count up to the actual time since the passed hour and minute lights remain on.
  • Learning level 7 only shows the current hour, the current minute and the second. The aid of counting is absent in this level, so here the CountClock approaches the conventional analog clock: only the hands are missing.

The Instructable dedicated to the CountClock Hours & Minutes can be found via this link: CountClock Hours and Minutes.

Step 4: Build It or Buy It

Openproducts' adage is 'Build It or Buy It'. You're completely free to build your own CountClock, based on off-the-shelf electronic components. The Arduino program code is available as well, allowing to tailor your CountClock appearance to children's preferences. The wooden housing can be produced by computer aided manufacturing, the drawings for which are freely available. You may also opt for making the wooden housing using hand tools. But (remember the adage ;-) you may also buy the CountClock Housing at the Openproducts Webshop, as well as a complete kit to build a basic CountClock yourself.

And: the CountClock is intended to be an open source product. The next step explains the reasons behind.

Step 5: CountClock Is an Open Source Product

The CountClocks are open source products, meaning that their design, or rather the documentation and drawings to make them, have been published under an open source license. Purpose is to ensure that the concept is available to anybody and that all world citizens can obtain the instructions to make a CountClock for own use, to give one away, or to sell it.

For the CountClock description, pictures, drawings, manufacturing files and program code a Creative Commons Attribution license was chosen, which means that it's much appreciated to reference the project, preferably in this way: by (2018)
Released under Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
Full license at

You might ask yourself: why giving all this away? Here is the answer: the best that may happen is that children worldwide learn telling the time from the CountClocks, either from the Hours Only or from the Hours & Minutes version. Open sourcing the product perhaps brings this objective within reach. What really helps is when people are actively communicating on the CountClock in a wide circle of acquaintances. So please feel free to contribute to the CountClock's succes and point others to this website. Many thanks in advance!

And: CountClock Housings and ClountClock DIY Kits are sold in the openproducts webshop. Fully assembled CountClocks may become available as well, if there appears to be a demand for them.

Before making the two multi-color LED CountClocks two prototypes were made, to test the principle. Pictures of these prototypes are presented in the next step.

Step 6: Prototypes of the CountClock

The half-oval shaped CountClocks presented in the previous steps are the final designs of the CountClock, with all-color LEDs

The pictures above show two prototypes, made using single-color LEDs and round housings. Two dedicated Instructables are available of these prototypes:

CountClock Hours Only Prototype

CountClock Hours & Minutes Prototype

In this project four CountClock variants were made, which required quite some skills. The next step presents four books that were very useful in the making process.

Step 7: Books Used for Making the CountClock

Four books were very useful to the CountClock project:

Exploring Arduino by Jeremy Blum: a great source for understanding many aspects around Arduino and for the CountClock prototypes especially useful for the shift registers.

SVG Essentials (2nd Edition) by J. David Eisenberg and Amelia Bellamy-Royds: used a lot for designing the CountClock housing and the Protective Template. SVG stands for Scalable Vector Graphics, which is a code-based image file.

Getting Started with Adafruit Trinket by Mike Barela: perfect starting point for programming Adafruit Trinket. Note that in the CountClocks Adafruit preferably a Trinket Pro is used.

CNC Milling in the Workshop by Marcus Bowman: with a focus on programming your CNC file manually by directly writing G-code. Note that G-code is quite machine specific, so first consult the manual of your milling machine to ensure that your coding efforts are not in vain.

The next step gives some ideas on how you may contribute to the success of the CountClock...

Step 8: Contribute by Telling Others

The CountClock is an open source project which means that all documentation is publicly available. So you're free to build your own CountClock, based on the design files provided here at One of the reasons to share the CountClock design files is to reach a wide audience, something you may be able to help with.

If you like the project and you think it deserves additional attention, feel free to contribute to the success of the CountClock in one of the following ways:

    • Tell others about the project. Just point people to the website, either by showing it or by communicating about the project via e-mail or through other media, like Twitter (@CountClockCC) or Facebook;
    • If you know people that are active in educating the target group (young children) then it would be really nice to refer them to the CountClock, since they might benefit directly from the concept in their daily job;
    • Comment on the project via, for example by sharing your ideas on how the CountClock may be further improved;
    • Follow the CountClock via Twitter or Facebook;
    • Follow Openproducts through Instructables (requires login, click the 'Follow' button just under the title of this Instructable). Your advantage of following is that it becomes easier to find out about new work by Openproducts;
    • Tag the CountClock as a 'Favorite' Instructable (requires login, find the button in the top bar);
    • Give a 'like' to this project at Facebook or Twitter;
    • Consider buying a CountClock DIY Kit in the webshop ( or make a donation via the webshop.

    Thanks for having taken note of the suggestions above, and enjoy reading about the project by browsing the CountClock publications here at Instructables!

    If you like to read more on the CountClock and its making, please continue reading the Instructable on the CountClock Hours and Minutes.

    Arduino Contest 2017

    Participated in the
    Arduino Contest 2017

    Design For Kids Challenge

    Participated in the
    Design For Kids Challenge