Today is…. An Abstract Concept: Why Are You Teaching Calendar To Preschoolers?

I travel from school to school as a consultant and nearly everywhere there is some version of the Days of the Week Song.  Parents often ask if we are teaching very young children – as young a 1-year-old – the days of the week.  Why are we so obsessed with transmitting this piece of knowledge?  Why is it so important to us that children can recite, “Today is Monday” even when they cannot understand it?

Today – the idea of today – is an abstract concept.  Young children learn through hands-on activities and they build their knowledge based on what their senses encounter.  They cannot see “today.”  I cannot hand them “today.”  It has no qualities that would engage the early learner’s brain.  They cannot pick up “Tuesday” and examine it to determine where to file it in their knowledge base. 

According to Jean Piaget who identified the four Stages of Cognitive Development, children begin to understand the general concepts of past and future between the ages of 2 – 7 years old. As someone who has worked in early childhood education for two decades, I can tell you that through approximately ages 4-5 years old, young children only have a vague concept of “this already happened” and “this will happen.”  They use the word “yesterday” to identify all events from the past.  Young children say, “Do you remember when I fell by the slide yesterday?” but that happened three weeks ago.  They use “tomorrow” similarly.  “Tomorrow” is anything that hasn’t happened yet.  “I am going to the beach tomorrow!” they declare when their parents have told us that they are going 3 days from now.
Piaget said that children don’t become aware of external events until 7 -11 years old.  That is when they start to put the pieces together from all of those years of pretend play and figure out the world.  This is when more logical thinking emerges and some, but not all, abstract concepts can be introduced. 

We insist on so much rote memorization that is meaningless to preschool children.  What a waste of precious time that could be spent teaching them concepts they can grasp.  Stop insisting that children memorize the days of the week so that adults feel better about how much they are learning.  That is really what it boils down to if we are honest.  A children reciting the days helps us to say, “Look how much was learned.”  Here’s the problem – it wasn’t.  Memorizing and learning are two different things.  Instead of spending time on “Today is….,” use that time for tangible and meaningful learning like patterning, sequencing, socialization problem solving and science activities to promote critical thinking – things they can see, feel and experience.  It will absolutely be time better spent.

Do you work on an early childhood setting with children under the age of 5 where “Days of the Week” is required?  Share this article.  Ask your head teacher, school director or principal to consider the fact that just because something has been done a certain way forever, that doesn’t mean it is best practice. Think about the old wives’ tales of your youth.  You probably abandoned a lot of silly advice when raising your own children. You knew better – those tales weren’t true and weren’t best.  It is the same for spending time on calendar in preschool.  It won’t hurt anyone but it isn’t best practice.

Learn more about better use of your circle time during my November 3 free webinar "Improve Your Circle Time:  Make It Time Well Spent."  CLICK HERE to register - watch live or catch the replay.

You can learn so much more from me online!  “Helping Preschools Achieve with Cynthia Terebush” – An Online Learning and Support Community for Early Childhood Professionals.  Now with individual memberships and staff bundles.  Check out my informational video HERE and go to Helping Preschools Achieve for more details.
And in person….Go to my full website for information about webinars, presentations and individual consulting for parents and educators -Helping Kids Achieve.

Copyright 2016 © Cindy Terebush
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  1. Thanks for sharing your ideas.Totally agree with the fact that rote learning and memorisation are not developmentally appropriate for young learners and children should learn through play based activities that are of interest to them .
    However I think that while Piaget remains our Bible knowledge , we have to put those concepts into

    context as todays children are developing and learning in a technology rich environment where kids are exposed to mobile phones,tablets,tv,billboards with child friendly and attractive messages .So is it still true to say that children become aware of the external environment as from the age of 7!
    I hope there should be some serious discussions on Piaget (1936) study of cognitive development and its applications on the development of children in todays world.

    1. The advent of technology does not change the ability of the children to really grasp abstractions. They still do not understand the boundary between reality and fantasy. They still come from an egocentric viewpoint. They are still developing a sense of self just as they did before. They just have the possibility of more information at their fingertips. That doesn't mean they are taking it in any differently.

    2. This is an interesting conversation which sounds to me to be on the edge of 'win-win'! ie both points of view are defensible but can continue to be clarified or expanded. We now see 2-3 year olds who play with the aps on their family smart phones while adults chat at 'pick-up time', finding games they enjoy and selecting options and so on. That certainly is another 'reading' of being aware of the external environment! The slide between reality and fantasy seems to me to be another (different) point. While both of these things seem interesting to me, it also remains that rote memorization is of little use without practical understanding. Tuesday will certainly make more sense if the child knows that the foreshadowed tuesday outing comes after dinner and Monday's big sleep/night. Over time, the use of labels in context will indeed make sense!


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