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.