As I entered the building I had to adjust my eyes from the bright Brazilian sun. What made it worse was the very poor lighting in the creche (child care center). A group of children were obediently sitting on benches at long tables. There were no books or educational equipment on the tables and no bright posters on the walls. But, as my eyes adjusted, I did get a glimpse of a calendar–in Portuguese–on the wall. It was obviously being used to teach the children (Wardle, 2005).
On another occasion I presented training on developmentally appropriate practice to parents and staff at a local early childhood program. The training was in one of the program’s classrooms. As I came to the part of my presentation that addressed the inappropriateness of the traditional calendar activity, I noticed an example of this very activity on the wall nearby!
The calendar activity seems to be part of the canon of early childhood practice (Wardle, 2005). However, the way it is taught is almost always developmentally inappropriate. This article addresses ways to make this activity more developmentally appropriate and provides ideas for using the outdoors as part of the activity.
Traditional Calendar Activity is not DAP
There are two fundamental reasons that the traditional calendar activity is often not DAP: 1) except for the child selected, it is a passive activity; and 2) it requires mathematical concepts that most preoperational children–those younger than about age 7–cannot comprehend.
As we well know, young children are very active and egocentric, need lots of hands-on opportunities to learn, and require constant challenges and stimulation (Wardle, 2003). When the traditional calendar activity is presented, one child gets to identify the day, week, month, year, and other information—for example, the weather for that day—while the rest of the children quietly observe.
The western calendar is a very complicated instrument. While time is linear, the calendar is not. It is based on a seven-day cycle (5 + 2 for school weeks), 30- or 31-day months, and a 12-month year. While each of these repeats itself in a regular sequence, the year is progressive. To understand these various number systems, a child must be able to understand class inclusion (i.e., a teacher can also be a mother and a shopper; a dog is also an animal). According to Piaget, most preoperational children do not understand class inclusion (Berger, 2006). I remember that when traveling with my children at this age, strangers would always ask them where they were from. One child would say Denver, the other Colorado, and then they would get into a big argument! Young children also view the passage of time through concrete activities, not though an abstract system (Wardle, 2003).
Making the Activity More DAP
Why do we teach the calendar activity? This is a critically important question as we move toward more intentional teaching and standards-based approaches. It seems to me we are trying to teach two overall concepts with this activity: abstract math concepts of time and scientific concepts of observation. Important time concepts that we can teach with the calendar include the following:
• Past, present and future
• The breakdown of time into units – minutes, hours, days, weeks, etc
• The regularity and predictability of time
• The seasons
• The base numbers of time – every 5 days, every 7 days, every 12 months, etc
• That the past is additive (each day adds to how long ago something occurred) and the future is subtractive
• That time can be measured
• The time line
Many of these things can be taught in a very developmentally appropriate way. To accomplish this, early childhood educators can:
• use a continuous timeline or one for each month. On this timeline identify the present day and a variety of important dates along the way (use icons as well as words). Identify these days by activities that will occur. The child doing the activity can point to the present day, then future events (such as field trips and special days), what they did yesterday, and the number of days to a future event.
• use the classroom daily schedule to understand the time within the day, the sequence of activities, and how to predict future activities (for example, free play is after snack, which is after the group activity).
• use a weekly schedule. Using this timeline children can see the pattern for the week, look at events in the upcoming days, view past activities, and begin to understand the concept of the base 7 (base 5 + 2) week. Thus, on Tuesday we go on fieldtrips, and on Friday the music teacher visits.
• make the calendar activity one for a small group of children—say three or four. They can work together collecting the needed information (see discussion below).
•put the calendar activity into one of the learning centers—i.e., the math center. Then encourage children to work on the activity when they choose to work in that center.
Use of The Outdoors
Teaching science at this age should focus on hands-on, child-centered inquiry (Lind, 1999) that includes careful observations of the natural environment (Copley, 2000), while math has to do with how we measure these observations (NCTM, 2000). This science and math learning can be incorporated into the calendar activity by making observations in the playgrounds or other outdoor areas. These observations can include:
• Growth of plants in the garden
• Flowers opening
• Flowers changing to seeds
• New seeds geminating in the garden
• Wildlife activity (tracks, scat, eating of the plants, eating tree bark, etc.)
• Different birds on the playground
• Length of the shadows created by the sun
• Moisture content
• Position of the sun in the sky
• Leaves changing color
• Nests/other homes of wildlife
• Insects and other wildlife
• Identifying different insects
• Snakes, slugs, snails, caterpillars, etc.
• Bees and butterflies (color, size, number, identification)
• Various effects of nature (rain erosion, movement of sand by the winds, seedpods in the playground, etc.)
Many of these observations can be measured. Some can be simply counted (number of birds’ nests, number of grasshoppers); some can be graphed (red flowers, yellow flowers); some can be measured using the correct instruments, and others can be identified using books. Calendar activity can implement:
• Thermometers for heat
• Wind gauges for speed and direction
• Rain gauges for the amount of rain
• Measuring tape to measure the length of shadows
• Identification books for animals, animal tracks, butterflies, insects, plants, flowers, etc.
• Ruler to measure the depth of the snow
There are many ways to use this information in the calendar activity. Choose several of the items, depending on the time of year and the geographic location of your program (this changing of the activity during the year is one way to keep it challenging—and thus DAP). Have the selected small group of children observe and record the data, then bring it to the classroom to record for that specific day on various graphs, matrixes, lists, positive-negative indicators (sun/no sun), etc. If you have a digital camera and printer, this should be used to accompany the information. The information should be left up for several days so that children can develop a sense of the past as a concept and also look for trends in nature, such as the snow getting deeper every day or more and more flowers blossoming.
It is very important that we teach children concepts of time and help them develop keen scientific observation skills. However, there are many fun, exciting, challenging and DAP ways to do this. In this era of standards, assessments and intentional teaching, it is critical that we focus on the intrinsic fascination all children have with observing and recording the natural word and figuring out the complexities of time, schedules and calendars.
Francis Wardle, Ph.D., is the director for the Center of Biracial Children, the author of the book Tomorrow’s Children: Meeting the Needs of Multiracial and Multiethnic Children at Home, in Early Childhood Programs, and at School (CBSC), and adjunct professor at the University of Phoenix/Colorado.
Berger, K. S. (2006). The developing person. Though childhood and adolescence. (7th ed). New York: Worth Publishers.
Copley, J. V. (2000). The young child and mathematics. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
Lind, (1999). K. K. (199). Science in early childhood: developing and acquiring fundamental concepts and skills. In dialogues in early childhood science, mathematics and technology education, (pp. 73-83). Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science.
National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (2002). Principles and standards for school mathematics. Reston, VA: Author.
Wardle, F. (2003). Introduction to early childhood education: A multidimensional approach to child-centered care and leaning. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Wardle, F (2005). Rethinking early childhood practices. Early Childhood News, 17 (1) 12-19.