I try to live each day with the philosophy “work smarter, not harder.” In the same way, I try to teach according to the same motto. I have my preschoolers for a short time before they head off to kindergarten, and I want to make sure that I am making the most of each minute I am with them. Learning needs to be meaningful, and that means that I need to be constantly assessing my own approaches and methods.
One of the activities that kept popping up on my radar is calendar time. I have worked at different centers who had varying views on it. At a couple of the preschools I have been in, as well as schools that I observed while getting my degree, they did this every day. It was a ritual. Sit on the circle time rug, talk about the day, the date, how many days until ____, and some even talked about the year. On the opposite spectrum, I worked for an organization where calendar was taboo. If you were caught with a calendar, you would be beheaded by lunch…well, maybe they would have been a little more understanding. Let’s just say no one dared ask for one in their classroom. One of my most dearly revered professors leaned more on this side too. She told us that a four year old would have to do calendar so many hundreds of times (I am really wishing I had written down the exact number now) before they understood it. I am going to say it is 350 times (and I know that’s the ballpark), which means that it would take roughly a year and a half of doing calendar for the concept to sink in. And that is if they go to school five days a week and the teacher does it every single day. We are talking years for kiddos who go less than Monday through Friday.
This certainly does not mean that engaging in calendar activities is evil or that it is damaging children. To me it meant that I was just wasting a lot of my time and their time because when a child is ready to achieve a skill, it is natural and occurs with ease, lots of times without the direct help of an adult. Another way to look at it is like trying to teach a five month old to walk. They will be ready in a little while, but they still need to learn to sit, crawl, pull up, balance, and more before they will even be ready to walk. We can try to help move their legs back and forth, but it’s not going to happen until all of the important steps in the middle take place.
There is a really great article written about this “calendar hot topic” by the National Association for the Education of Young Children called Calendar Time for Young Children: Good Intentions Gone Awry. According to this article, it all comes down to the fact that calendar time for preschoolers and even kindergarteners is not meaningful. Young children can understand the concepts of before and after, but not the days of the week. In fact, according to NAEYC, the ability to understand how many days there are from now until a future event will not take place until a child is between the ages of 7 and 10.
If you are like me, you may wonder about children who are very advanced. Would this be appropriate for them? I certainly wanted to find the answer to this, so last year I did my own little experiment. I began teaching calendar time to my most advanced pre-kindergartener. If anyone would figure it out, it would be her! So here was my prime opportunity. We spent two months working on calendar. Each day she came in, and I would ask the “typical calendar questions.” What is today? Which day was yesterday? What is tomorrow? How many days until _______? We went over them four times a week, and after two steady months, my question had been answered. For a child who mastered skills so easily, I could see that this activity was still too advanced for her.
I had come to a crossroads. Do I just throw out the whole concept? Do we do it on occasion? Can I adjust this to make it meaningful? Thankfully, I decided I really wanted to devise a way that could work out for everyone. I desired to provide a solution for those teachers who just love calendar, and I was determined to make it developmentally appropriate for preschoolers (and kindergarteners). And I did it — I created a method to make calendar time interactive and meaningful!
My interactive calendar, as I will call it, mostly focuses on math, and I don’t even bring up the days of the week. Well I do in other meaningful ways, but I don’t do it with the interactive calendar. The main focus of this is to familiarize preschoolers with how a calendar looks and to give them more confidence with numbers and enjoyment in matching, sorting, patterning, number recognition, etc. Here’s how I completely transformed our calendar time.
First, I decided that instead of using it in a large group setting, we would have it as a “small center” on one side of my easel. Children can come and go as they please and spend as long as they want. They can touch it, rearrange it, and just explore it!
To make it sturdy enough for little fingers, I laminated all the numbers and added velcro dots.
Each day I write the number that we are on with a dry erase crayon. The dry erase markers rub off too easily, so the crayons are perfect. Then I put the numbers in a container for them to find at the bottom of the easel. You may even see child written numbers on our calendar from time to time.
They love to match the laminated number cards with the handwritten numbers!
Calendar time is so much more meaningful now! Sometimes, just one child will play at the calendar center, but lots of times, I find two friends there helping one another. Within a few minutes, I usually see a completed calendar after some great team work.
This has truly been an incredibly successful approach to “calendaresque” activities. I have found my preschooler’s comprehension of numbers and quantity has skyrocketed. Calendar time is not a task to do anymore — it is an interactive experience led by the interest of each child. We don’t even do this every month, just as long as they find it fulfilling and interesting.
To see how we do another different calendar technique in December, take a peek at our calendar activity here.