Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? In my own classroom, calendar time was a struggle for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.
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 have 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 five different schools in my 17 years of working in ECE, and calendar looks different depending on what each school’s philosophy is.
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 today
- Look at what yesterday was
- Find out what tomorrow is
- Write out the date in full, with the year
On the opposite spectrum, I worked for an organization where calendar time 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.
I honestly felt completely conflicted within myself, feeling uncertain and confused with the two polar opposite extremes.
But then I had a professor who gave me some perspective that I’ll never forget.
Calendar Time in Preschool
One of my most dearly revered professors had me on the edge of my seat one class when she was talking about calendar time. I was hanging on to her every word.
She told us that a four-year-old would have to do calendar 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).
This means that it would take roughly a year and a half of doing calendar time 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 wrong or that it is damaging children.
To me it meant that I was just wasting a lot of my time and their time.
I would rather teach a child when they are ready or in a way that is exciting for them.
Learning is a joyful experience where we come alongside a child’s interests and support them in that.
But there were times when I felt like calendar was full of lots of blank stares, long, silent pauses, and me saying to myself, “We just said this yesterday. And the day before that. And before that. Right? We were all in the same room I thought!?!”
Since I don’t think that learning should feel like pulling teeth, I took a step back and gave it some extra perspective.
I would never try to have a five-month-old who is just sitting up try to learn to walk. I would support them where they are at and keep encouraging their development until the time was right for them.
So why was I dragging these concepts through circle time when they would just “click” one day?
Calendar Time: Good Intentions Gone Awry by Lilian Katz
I’m not the only one questioning this practice though. There is a really great article written about this “calendar hot topic” from 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. Be careful not to mistaken this with rote memorization.
In fact, according to the author, Lilian Katz, 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.
Instead, children gain value from visual schedules.
Calendar Time put to the test
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 one year I did my own case study. 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 time. Each day she came in, and I would ask the “typical calendar time 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.
How do we make calendar time developmentally appropriate?
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 time, and I was determined to make it developmentally appropriate for preschoolers (and kindergarteners).
Actually, since this was originally published, many people have commented below with great ideas about how they make calendar time engaging.
And I compiled a bunch of ideas that are developmentally appropriate ways to modify calendar time.
But I’m just about to share the “aha” moment I had with doing calendar time and transforming it to an engaging part of our preschool day.
From Circle Time to Center Time
I decided that I wanted to try out something new.
Do you ever feel like calendar time takes up so much of circle time?
After days of the week, months of the year, counting to 20+, talking about patterns, doing daily helpers, saying the Pledge of Allegiance, having a welcome song, reading a book, and talking about a concept, circle time can be way too long.
OK, so I know not everyone does all of those things, but maybe you do or know someone who does.
And then the children can’t sit still.
And then you feel like you’re addressing behavior instead of what you really want to talk about for circle time.
I would rather spend circle time building community and having meaningful discussions. Circle time is meant to be about forming relationships, building trust, engaging one another, and telling stories. But I felt that had all become an afterthought.
So this is how I completely transformed calendar time.
I decided that instead of using it in a large group setting, we would have it during center time 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!
Wait??? Did I just say that I let my class have full rein of the calendar?
I sure did!
Making Calendar Time Meaningful
My interactive calendar mostly focuses on math, and I don’t even bring up the days of the week.
Well, I do in other meaningful ways, such as with songs from Music With Nancy, but I don’t do it with the interactive calendar. Let’s be honest, children can learn those days of the week songs in a flash.
The main focus of this calendar time is to familiarize preschoolers with how a calendar looks and to give them more confidence with numbers.
But most of all? My students got a way to enjoy and engage in matching, sorting, patterning, number recognition, etc.
Have I piqued your interest?
I’ll tell you more…
Here are our materials:
- Classroom Calendar
- Velcro dots
- Scotch Thermal Laminator
- Laminating Pouches
- Crayola Large Dry Erase Crayons
To make it sturdy enough for little fingers, I laminated all the numbers and added velcro dots.
The soft side to the calendar and the scratchy side on the numbers. But let’s be honest, that doesn’t really matter. Centering them correctly does though. Let’s just say I learned that one the hard way, ha.
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 teamwork.
This has truly been an incredibly successful approach to calendar time 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.
And to be honest, calendar time has never been better!
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Another way to teach time concepts that are meaningful and relevant to children can be found in the First Calendar Set here which is appropriate for ages 2-7:
And here are even more ways to make calendar time developmentally appropriate: