Most preschool classrooms include calendar activities as part of their circle time. The class will add another number, identify the month and day of the week, and talk about what day it will be tomorrow and what day it was yesterday. Does your calendar time go something like this?
Children: “Friday!”, “Monday!”, “October!”, “Wednesday!”
Teacher: Very good! Tomorrow is Wednesday. What day was yesterday?
Children: “Wednesday!”, “Friday!”, “October!”, “Monday!”
If the children are still guessing wildly after you’ve been discussing it every school day for 2 months, what does this say about the children’s readiness for the topic? Is this the best way for the children to learn about the calendar? Is the time spent on calendar activities the best use of the time?
Learning About Time: Time is an abstract concept that begins to form from birth. Some early time concepts that need to be developed before a child understands the calendar include:
- activities can follow a predictable sequence-I eat lunch then nap.
- before and after- I wash my hands after using the bathroom.
- later and next – I will get my turn later.
- morning, afternoon, and evening – We will go to music class in the afternoon.
- yesterday, today, tomorrow – We made cookies yesterday.
- relative time- It takes longer to read a story than zip my coat.
Yet in many classrooms, teachers are spending significant time on calendar activities before children even understand the concept of “today” let alone “yesterday” or “tomorrow”. Many children get to the end of preschool without being able to identify what day of the week comes next even though it was part of the classroom routine everyday. Add to that the fact that most children pick up the idea of a calendar fairly quickly once they are about seven, and stands to reason that there are perhaps better ways to spend our limited classroom time.
A Better Way: We should be working diligently to help our students understand the concept of time, but it needs to be based on developmentally appropriate practice instead of what has always been done or what works in the kindergarten or first grade classroom.
Lets look at some concepts that are often covered during calendar time and consider different ways they could be developed.
Understanding the concepts of yesterday and tomorrow. Teachers often use the calendar as a way to develop the ideas of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. To be sure these are important concepts for the students to understand. However the names of the days of the week are too abstract to help most children grasp this difficult concept. Instead we need to talk about specific activities that have occurred or will occur. “Yesterday we found a worm on the playground.” “Tomorrow we will make tacos.”
Learning the days of the week and months of the year. Starting about four children begin to understand that certain events always happen on certain days. I go to school on Tuesday and Thursday. On Saturday Dad makes me breakfast. We need to include the days of the week when discussing our class schedule. “Today is Monday so we will go to music class.” The same is true with the months of the year. When a new month starts talk about all the fun events that are planned. “September is over and now it is October. Ryan will have a birthday on October 12, and on the last day it will be Halloween!”
Identifying numbers. Children certainly need to have many opportunities to identify numbers in real-world situations. Using the calendar may not be the most efficient way to do so. Because a new number is introduced every day, children do not get adequate practice with one number before you are on to the next one. We should be spending our time working on the numbers that are “just right” for our class, not all the numbers 1-31. If you want number identification to be part of your daily routine, have a helper pull a number out of a bag that includes four or five numbers your class is working on. You can even use those cute calendar numbers that you have. Use that number for a variety of activities that will help your students identify the number and understand the quantity it represents.
One More Idea – add calendar activities later: I came to the realization after I had been teaching for several years – I don’t have to include every activity in my circle time from the very beginning. Four year olds or kindergarten students may be ready to have the calendar introduced later in the year. If calendar needs to be part of your circle time, you could start in January or even March once they have learned more about time and can identify more of the numbers. This would also solve the problem of children getting bored with the same activities all year.
Whether you work in a school year program, or a year round program, summer is the perfect time to reflect on your classroom routines and make any needed changes. I challenge you to look at your calendar routine and be intentional about what you include.
Be on the lookout for my next blog entry, “Activities to Develop the Concept of Time”.
Resource: Sallee J. Beneke, Michaelene M. Ostrosky, and Lilian G. Katz; “Calendar Time for Young Children; Good Intentions Gone Awry”; Young Children, May, 2008.