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.
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