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Calendar Time Must Die

By Amy Parks posted 01-30-2018 12:58


I spend a lot of time in early childhood classrooms, and, as the headline suggests, I have gotten to a point where I cannot sit through one more moment of Calendar Time. It is difficult to select what makes me most crazy about this practice:

● Is it that too often Calendar Time takes up prime instructional real estate -- those precious morning minutes when children are fresh and ready for a new day?
● Is it that PreK learners, who have been doing Calendar Time daily for months, still shout out every potential answer to the question “What day is it today?”
● Maybe it is the way so many children put their heads in their hands or turn to poke at their neighbors while one of their classmates marches through the 10-minute daily routine?
● Perhaps still, it is the fact that the mathematics addressed in Calendar Time rarely seems to change and is often out of sync with the needs of the children?

You guessed correctly... all of these. Variations on Calendar Time – a whole group instructional practice where children typically answer questions about today and tomorrow, they extend patterns, and they count. Calendar Time is described in a variety of curricula and it is implemented widely throughout the U.S. While my concerns are legion, there are two major reasons why I think this practice must go away.

First, Calendar Time, as it is most commonly implemented, embodies the Pedagogy of Watching. In order to learn mathematics, children must do mathematics. Yet, Calendar Time requires most children in the room to sit silently and look on as one child counts straws, extends patterns, and writes numerals, while all of the others wait for their one turn a month. This is particularly troubling in prekindergarten where many children are in great need of opportunities to begin to build one-to-one correspondence and cardinality, which cannot be accomplished by only counting from a distance. Even in second grade most children would benefit from the chance to solve a problem themselves, rather than watch their classmates engage in routine exercises.

Second, Calendar Time has heavy Mathematical Opportunity Costs. The Common Core State Standards in Mathematics ask young children to engage in some relatively serious mathematical work – composing and decomposing numbers, exploring mental addition and subtraction (a necessary bridge between number composing and formal calculation), and finding relationships among two- and three-dimensional shapes, not to mention Mathematical Practices like reasoning and critiquing arguments. Typical Calendar routines offer few opportunities for children to engage in this type of significant mathematics learning. Instead, they are pushed toward thinking about either mathematics that is not yet appropriate. There might be discussions of place value before children are fluent counters, or a less significant and more generalized task, such as memorizing the days of the week. While we might point at important gaps in the mathematical knowledge of America’s high school students, few are wandering around ignorant of the days of the week.

Of course, I am not the first researcher to raise Calendar Time critiques. Ethridge and King (2005) found that one common calendar curriculum contains the identical script for place value activities for kindergarten, first, and second grades, making it unlikely that the routine meets the children’s needs at any of those levels. Beneke, Ostrosky and Katz (2008) described a teacher wondering why after five months of daily Calendar Time, her children were still not sure what day it was going to be when they got home from school later that afternoon. And yet, Calendar Time persists.

As a former primary grades teacher, I do understand its appeal. It’s lovely to have a routine to start the day so children know what to expect; therefore, the daily challenge of planning five hours of meaningful instruction becomes a bit more manageable. I’m not arguing we should get rid of routines, only that we should be a bit more selective. For example, we might consider beginning the day with Number Talks, which invite all children to practice composing and decomposing numbers, to add and subtract mentally, and to explain their reasoning (Parrish, 2010). Similarly, Cognitively Guided Instruction (Carpenter et al, 2017) provides a manageable framework for inviting children to solve problems daily in ways that strengthen their understandings of number, place value, and operations and encourages them to represent their thinking for classmates. We could also consider opening the day by letting children explore bins of engaging materials selected to encourage counting, patterning, and shape exploration (Baratta-Lorton, 1976). What all of these routines have in common is that they encourage every child to actively engage with mathematics that is both important and relevant. It makes me sad when I hear teachers say they don’t have time for these things.
But I know where we could find some.

#ElementarySchool #CalendarTime #learn 

Baratta-Lorton, M. (1976). Mathematics Their Way. Menlo Park,CA: Addison-Wesley.
Beneke, S., Ostrosky, M., & Katz, L. (2008). Calendar Time for Young Children: Good Intentions Gone Awry. YC Young Children, 63(3), 12-16.
Carpenter, T.P., Franke, M.L., Johnson, N.C., Torrou, A.C. & Wager, A.A. (2017). Young Children’s Mathematics: Cognitively Guided Instruction for Early Childhood Education. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Ethridge, E. A., & King, J. R. (2005). Calendar math in preschool and primary classrooms: Questioning the curriculum. Early Childhood Education Journal, 32(5), 291-296.
Parrish, S. (2010). Number Talks: Helping Children Build Mental Math and Computation Strategies. Sausalito, CA: Math Solutions.



05-30-2022 16:10

I have moved on from calendar time in my kindergarten classroom, and we've been more successful with number talk and CGI math. Our calendar is a free choice activity that some enjoy taking care of by creating patterned pieces, graphing the weather, etc. The time it took for the whole class wasn't worth the return.

06-27-2020 14:23

I loved reading this post!  I came back to teaching after years of staying home with my own children and was a little surprised to find that they routine of calendar was GONE!  I had always used it, and I did see the benefits of, especially by the time my first graders were introduced to the concepts of time and money.  We used it each morning and they were confident!  

I do agree that the students need to be engaged individually instead of "watching, listening and repeating."   I hope to take the idea of "Number Talks" and "Exploration Tubs" to use as my morning routine.  Thanks for the info!

09-24-2018 14:21

I had the opportunity to observe a calendar lesson for the first time in a number of years a few weeks ago.  This was in a first grade classroom, and I was pleasantly surprised by what I observed.  The instruction that went along with this teacher's version of calendar time really changed my stance on it.  I was impressed not only by the fact that she was addressing 3-4 standards thoroughly, but that she did it in a way that was both engaging and practical for her students.  Like you, I was less than enthusiastic at the outset of the lesson, but by the end, I realized how diverse of an instructional tool it actually is.

05-30-2018 12:02

​I'm a Pre-K teacher and I believe Calendar Time at that age is a better social studies lesson than a math one. We very briefly mention the holidays, events and birthdays that are going to happen in the month. We also briefly talk about the days of the week as it pertains to what they are going to get as a prize that day, such as "tattoos on Tuesday" and "prize box on Thursday" complete with picture reminders. I don't think it needs to "die" it just needs to be done in a more developmentally appropriate way.

02-04-2018 22:37

It is a routine that is difficult to change. The questions and expectations surrounding the routine do fail to meet the Ts expected goals but it is challenging hep Ts recognize that. The students are parroting the "song" that must be evidence that it works?  
Several Ts that I have worked with have re-focused the calendar routines to focus on documenting and solving problems that involve time or our classroom.  For example, they have moved away from the month calendar in favor of the linear calendar. Classroom and Ss events are recorded daily and about one time per week or when it makes sense, students use these representations of time to pose and answer questions. For example, how many days until the weekend, or how many birthdays have we celebrated this month? or science school started? 
What day will it be tomorrow? The day after that? The authentic problem solving of this routine, has raised the cognitive demand of the routine and empowered students to use a calendar for what a calendar is used for (tracking, planning, and problem solving about time). Good luck!

02-01-2018 12:13

Note that I haven't seen the Calendar routine very often nor have I seen it by very many teachers, so my comment is based on reading and responding to what you have written, so take it with a grain of salt.

I wonder if some of the issues you describe could be resolved by some change in the routine.

For example, instead of each child answering some questions one at a time while the other children watch, maybe the teacher could prompt students to turn and talk and take turns answering the question? At least then half of the children are talking at any one moment, and bonus, children are learning from an early age how to listen to each other. 

The complaint about how the mathematics of the routine doesn't seem to change during the 3 years it is typically used, this seems like either a scope and sequence question (define what is the math and figure out how to apportion it) or an access question. It may be that 3 years spent on very similar math for 10 minutes a day is not actually all that bad because A. students forget what they have learned unless they over-learn it quite a bit and B. some students will not learn the math in the 1st and maybe even the 2nd year the routine is used.

As for students still not remembering what day of the week it is, my 11 year still wonders which day of the week it is somewhat frequently and I still (very occasionally) forget. However given that an explicit goal of the Calendar Routine is for students to learn about the days of the week, what order they are in, and how to keep track of what day it is today, I agree with you that when students still don't know this information, this seems like an utter failure of the routine.

01-30-2018 16:02

I am intrigued by this post! When I first read it, I reflected on my own days in primary classrooms, and more recently on time spent as a coach with teachers in their classrooms. One group of G1 teachers I worked with changed Calendar Time into Calendar Clubs... they became the number sense routines to start the math learning with. Kids shared learning about the number of the day (i.e the 30th) and built models, solved number grid puzzles around the number, discussed ways to make the number, modeled the number, etc. I thought it was a great alternative to one child leading the learning - as you noted - and the rote redundancy of "choral" or call/response types of activities associated with Calendar Time. Great way to life this conversation - get teachers reflecting and thinking!