We often observe large group time and when children are engaged and the group time is kept short, it can be an important part of the day. It is a time when children gain a sense of belonging to the classroom community and have an opportunity to talk about important events in their lives. Calendar activities are often part of these large group gatherings. Many times we see teachers pose questions to children that draw blank stares, such as “yesterday was…. today is …. and tomorrow will be…..”
The Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale doesn’t specifically address “calendar time”, but it does address developmentally appropriate ways to teach math concepts and addresses child engagement and individual needs during group times. If concepts are not developmentally appropriate and too abstract, children will become disengaged and problems may arise.
Still, many preschool teachers will argue that calendar time is the time when they introduce important math concepts such as counting, one-to-one correspondence and basic patterning. And, these math concepts are important to introduce to preschoolers. But is whole-group calendar time the best time and best way to introduce developmentally appropriate math concepts? Here are some alternatives suggested in the articles listed in the resource section and from ideas I have observed in the field:
Hands-on Materials: Young children need many opportunities to explore concepts such as patterning and counting using real materials. This can be handled most effectively in small groups or at center time with adults who are available to guide their learning.
Daily Opportunities: Many opportunities exist throughout the day to teach math concepts. For example, counting while children wash their hands or looking for patterns in the environment during outdoor play. These experiences help children understand the value math plays in their everyday lives.
Use a Picture Schedule: Young children may not be able to judge how much time there is between events, but they can begin to understand the sequence of events (snack comes after circle time). Some programs I have observed use a picture schedule instead of a calendar to talk about the events of the day or use it as a teachable moment when children want to know when it will be time to go outside.
Photos or Classroom Displays: I have observed teachers using project displays to talk about the progression of events in a study or to talk about past special events. Other teachers use picture journals or photo albums as a way of recording and revisiting past events.
Linear representations: Linear representations can help children begin to understand the concept of a day and the passage of time. Some teachers record the events of the week on a blank piece of poster paper. They draw a square for each day and a picture that represents what occurred during that day. Houses are drawn on stay-at-home days. Teachers can then use the picture in the boxes to discuss events that happened yesterday in a way that is meaningful to children.
What are your thoughts about whole-group calendar time? What alternatives do you see programs using instead of the traditional calendar time? What alternatives do you suggest to programs instead of the traditional calendar time?