Yesterday was…Today is…Tomorrow will be…Calendar Time – The Best Use of Their Time?


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?




Kris Corrigan is an Environment Rating Scale Assessor with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. She has been in her current position for three years. She enjoys meeting and working with providers who are committed to providing quality environments for the children in their care. In her free time, she enjoys spending time with her family including her four cats.

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Group Times

Group times can be a great way for providers to share some content on certain topics, complete daily tasks and even share a bit about their plans for the day. Too often, we find providers spend more time saying things like “sit down,” “crisscross applesauce,” or “listening ears,” than they spend conveying information or interacting in a positive way with the children. Usually this occurs in large group times-times when all the children, or a large group of the children enrolled are required to sit down for a “group time” or participate in a group activity, like an art project. The following tips may help providers determine when and if they want to utilize group times and ways to ensure success:

Is group time necessary? The ITERS-R evaluates group time in Item 31, Group play activities, and can be scored NA if no group play times occur. Group times are defined as being staff-initiated and have an expectation of child participation. If the children in the group are not ready for group times, it is perfectly acceptable to not conduct group. The FCCERS-R also allows for an “NA” if children are never required to do the same activity as a whole group during play or learning. Because of the multi-age setting of family child care homes, group time can be especially difficult.

What are children gaining from group time? Many teachers and providers seem to feel that group time may be their only chance to “educate” children, and they conduct long groups covering a variety of topics. We know that children learn best through play and interaction. When they are required to sit for long periods of time, participating in an activity that they are not interested in, they are losing out on valuable time they could be learning in a meaningful way. I’ve seen providers who still conduct a calendar/weather time each day with children, but it is a voluntary time- only those children interested participate. Instead of introducing a “letter of the week” in large group, would time be better spent introducing it to a small group of children while encouraging them to come up with words that start with that letter?

Are children capable of learning in a group time? It is important to consider each child’s physical ability to participate in group. We know that young children need to be active and are often impulsive. Are they physically capable of sitting in group, or is their body telling them they need to move? Instead of reprimanding them for doing what their body is telling them, (“sit still”) would it be better to allow them to join in another activity? Is there another way that they can gain the same information that is more appropriate for them?

What’s the right size? Consider the ages and stages of the children. Some may be able to learn and participate in a large group setting, and some may not. The pressures and distractions of a large group can bother some children. Keeping group size small, especially for younger children, helps children focus and enjoy participation. The ITERS-R states that group sizes should range from 2-3 infants, 2-5 toddlers, and 4-6 two year olds.

What are the providers achieving? If providers are feeling like group time is a constant fight, it is time to re-evaluate. If group time is a daily struggle, it’s as hard on the teachers as it is the children. When a provider is constantly reminding children to sit down, listen, stop talking, etc., they likely don’t feel very successful. What are some ways providers can determine if their group times are helpful to the children? Are there any tips or techniques you feel work well when it comes to group time?



Jamie has worked with young children and their families for over 15 years. She is dedicated to ensuring that all young children receive high quality care and education.

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