Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Deconstructed Calendar

Some of the "stuff" (for lack of a better term) we do with young children need to be re-evaluated and deconstructed. Take Calendar Time for example. I struggled for years through calendar time.  Why did I even do calendar time?  The 2-5 yr olds that are in my program rarely fully understood the calendar.  It was more of a routine than anything and something that ate up valuable play and discovery time.  With a simple change, calendar time has turned into an amazing learning opportunity completely lead by the children! 

But first, here are my issues with traditional calendar time:

1)  It's boring and very recited, don't confuse recited with learning.  Just because a child can recite the days of the week does not mean they fully grasp the concept of days/weeks/months.
2) I always had discipline issues.  Why?  See issue #1.
3) A child cannot see rows out of a grid of squares.  Yes, I know this skill needs to be learned in order for a child to learn to read....but, is calendar time the most effective time to teach this skill?
4)  A grid of squares that a child cannot make sense of is not the best way to teach children number order.  By the time the second week of numbers is added to the calendar, young children will lose any sense of number order.
5) Squares in a square do not show distance.  They do not appear to be taking us anywhere.  They do not represent time passing because in the end, you are still inside this little square.....we have not traveled across a great distance.
6) I knew in my heart I was doing Calendar Time to please the parents, not the kids.  Parents love to hear their child recite things because that means they "know it" right?  Wrong.....but it's hard to get all parents on board with that theory.

So then.....last year I boycotted Calendar Time all together, but that didn't feel right either.  I needed some way to help young children grasp the concept of time, and moving towards something.  It was also a guaranteed "math moment" everyday.  Let's face it, sometimes math gets overlooked with the excitment of other things.  There is math hidden all over the place, but sometimes we forget to grab those moments and really make the best of them.  Calendar time was my guaranteed contact with numbers every day.  Do young children necessarily need daily contact with numbers?  Debateable.  After going a year without it, I definitely noticed a difference in my crew going off to Kindergarten, so I knew I had to bring it back.


After putting much thought into how I could make calendar time more relevant in the mind of a child I came up with the following:

1) I got rid of the grid.
I deconstructed a regular calendar.  I cut the weeks apart and hung them in one long continuous row.  Interestingly enough, as I was hanging this up, the children ALL noticed. The first thing they noticed was how long it was.  "Whoa!  That is really long"  "That's big Nita!" "What is it?"

2) What's NOW....what's NEXT?
I put the current month on the far left side of the looong row, and the NEXT month at the far right hand of the looong row.  Comments from the children on this "OH! It's a Calendar" (the older ones recognized the month cards) "I see!  We are going from this one alllllllllllllll the way to that one!"  (wow...already they are grasping the concept!!)

3) Gave ownership to the children, boosted self esteems, increased vocabulary,encouraged teamwork and motivated the children to recognize numbers!
To put true ownership of the calendar into the hands of the children, I hid the number of the day.  Whenever the number is discovered, this is when we do calendar time. It is no longer a forced activity full of discipline issues. The children who are interested (which, so far, has been everyone) gather around and watch the person who found the number put it in the appropriate spot. 

What happens if the calendar number is not found?  Nothing.  It will be found eventually.  Since my goals with the calendar are not learning the days of the week, but rather number order and recognition and measurement, it doesn't really matter.  When that number is finally found, they put it in the right spot then.  Moments like this provide even more learning.  For example:  say on the 10th the number is not found.  On the 11th, they find the 11.  The children need to recognize that 11 is not going to come after 9.  When 10 is finally discovered,they then need to recognize that it is a 10, not 12 and put it in the correct spot!  (did I lose anyone on that description??!)

The benefits of this one component have been huge.
  • The child who knows what number we are looking for feels wonderful because they know their numbers.
  •  The children who are learning about numbers learn through teamwork and from their peers.
  •  The vocabulary used to give clues as to the number's whereabouts help children grasp those directional terms such as under, over, in, behind, around, near etc.

              The calendar is now a highlight of the morning, it's a BIG deal.  When a child arrives after the number has been found, they are truly bummed, and in most cases will go to the calendar and double check that indeed a new number is up.  They then see if the correct day is up, and if it isn't then they will quickly fix it!
What a great self - esteem boost for Cole (5) as Erik (3) and Lindsey (2)
join him to figure out how many days until Gavin's birthday.  I would
like to note that this was not asked of them...this was their own doing. They left what
they were playing when they saw Cole counting.  Lindsey and Erik continued pointing
and counting all the way to October long after Cole left to go play.
4)  Physically move towards a new month.
Each week, we slide the "Mon., Tues., Wed.," card down to show us starting a new week and moving closer to a birthday, a Holiday or simply the next month.

I encourage you to take a close look at each part of your day.  Do somethings just not feel right? If so, fix it. Perhaps there are other "typical" and "expected" parts of an early childhood program that need to be decontructed too!

Remember, put responsibility and ownership in the hands of children as often as you can!  The results are FABULOUS!

Now go play!  (and....deconstruct if need be!!)