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Letter of the Week and Calendar Time: Should You Let Them Go?

Posted by on in What If?
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Letter of the week and daily calendar are well-known staples of circle time in early childhood education. But there are many experts in the field who feel they’re a waste of time and should be banished. So, what if they have no real value to young children?

That idea gets a lot of pushback from many early childhood teachers, who fervently believe there are good reasons why these practices have “always been done.” But, too often, it’s because they’ve always been done that letter of the week and daily calendar continue to be a presence in many ECE environments.

To discuss this topic, I invited three extremely thoughtful early childhood professionals – Heather Shumaker, Deborah Stewart, and Amanda Morgan – to Studentcentricity. The conversation was lively and informative. Afterwards, Amanda sent this takeaway regarding letter of the week:

Children's minds don't hold information in an alphabetized filing system. It looks more like webbing with meaningful connections. Organizing your content based on meaningful themes rather than letters will be more effective. Focusing on the letter M and doing diverse activities focused on maps, monkeys, museums, and marmalade will not connect as well as exploring one fascinating theme in depth, and emphasizing meaningful language and literacy experiences along the way.

If you're transitioning away from letter of the week and are concerned that children may not be exposed to every letter, you may want to map out intentional opportunities to introduce letters in very brief mini-lessons and discussions within your thematic unit. Soon, you'll find that these discussions become natural and frequent observations of meaningful print within classroom experiences, initiated not only by you, but the children as well.

And Heather contributed some additional thoughts on calendar time:

Calendars don't have meaning for young children. Don't worry, they'll understand about Monday soon enough. We are so concerned about time, but if we look at the research, we are actually wasting children's time by spending time drilling calendars and weather charts. Kids’ brains don't naturally develop an understanding about time until closer to age seven. Trust kids. Don't turn the early years into mini-school. They learn best in different ways at this age.

My final question for these panelists was: If you were queen of the world and could design the circle time most likely to benefit children, what would it look like? To discover each of their responses, clickhere.

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Rae Pica has been an education consultant specializing in the development and education of the whole child, children's physical activity, and active learning since 1980. A former adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is the author of 19 books, including the text Experiences in Movement and Music and, most recently, What If Everybody Understood Child Development?: Straight Talk About Bettering Education and Children's Lives. Rae has shared her expertise with such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues, Gymboree, Nike, and state health departments throughout the country. She is a member of the executive committee of the Academy of Education Arts and Sciences and is co-founder of BAM Radio Network, where she hosts Studentcentricity, interviewing experts in education, child development, play research, the neurosciences, and more on teaching with students at the center.

  • Guest
    Mary Saturday, 10 September 2016

    I found this discussion very interesting, and very timely for me. I'm working with a small preschool, in the bush in Zambia and I'm fighting a battle with the teachers regarding doing things "because we've always done them this way". First, it's good to be reminded that this happens universally, and second, that the concept of time for preschoolers is wasting everybody's time.

    Thank you for the encouragement and help!

  • Rae Pica | @raepica1
    Rae Pica | @raepica1 Saturday, 10 September 2016

    Mary, so glad this was of help to you! Thanks for writing.

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Guest Friday, 09 December 2016