Making Calendar Time Meaningful

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

I try to live each day with the philosophy “work smarter, not harder.” In the same way, I try to teach according to the same motto. I have my preschoolers for a short time before they head off to kindergarten, and I want to make sure that I am making the most of each minute I have with them. Learning needs to be meaningful, and that means that I need to be constantly assessing my own approaches and methods.

One of the activities that kept popping up on my radar is calendar time. I have worked at different centers who had varying views on it. At a couple of the preschools I have been in, as well as schools that I observed while getting my degree, they did this every day. It was a ritual. Sit on the circle time rug, talk about the day, the date, how many days until ____, and some even talked about the year. On the opposite spectrum, I worked for an organization where

On the opposite spectrum, I worked for an organization where calendar was taboo. If you were caught with a calendar, you would be beheaded by lunch…well, maybe they would have been a little more understanding. Let’s just say no one dared ask for one in their classroom.

The truth about calendar time

One of my most dearly revered professors leaned more on this side too. She told us that a four-year-old would have to do calendar so many hundreds of times (I am really wishing I had written down the exact number now) before they understood it. I am going to say it is 350 times (and I know that’s the ballpark), which means that it would take roughly a year and a half of doing calendar for the concept to sink in. And that is if they go to school five days a week and the teacher does it every single day. We are talking years for kiddos who go less than Monday through Friday.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

This certainly does not mean that engaging in calendar activities is evil or that it is damaging children. To me it meant that I was just wasting a lot of my time and their time because when a child is ready to achieve a skill, it is natural and occurs with ease, lots of times without the direct help of an adult.

Another way to look at it is like trying to teach a five-month-old to walk. They will be ready in a little while, but they still need to learn to sit, crawl, pull up, balance, and more before they will even be ready to walk. We can try to help  move their legs back and forth, but it’s not going to happen until all of the important steps in the middle take place.

Calendar Time: Good Intentions Gone Awry by Lilian Katz

There is a really great article written about this “calendar hot topic” from the National Association for the Education of Young Children called Calendar Time for  Young Children: Good Intentions Gone AwryAccording to this article, it all comes down to the fact that calendar time for preschoolers and even kindergarteners is not meaningful. Young children can understand the concepts of before and after, but not the days of the week. In fact, according to the author, Lilian Katz, the ability to understand how many days there are from now until a future event will not take place until a child is between the ages of 7 and 10.

Update: Jamie from Play to Learn Preschool and I have developed a daily schedule set that is developmentally appropriate. You can see how I use it at home and how Jamie uses it in her classroom.

First Home or School Calendar

Calendar time put to the test

If you are like me, you may wonder about children who are very advanced. Would this be appropriate for them? I certainly wanted to find the answer to this, so last year I did my own little experiment. I began teaching calendar time to my most advanced pre-kindergartener. If anyone would figure it out, it would be her!

So here was my prime opportunity. We spent two months working on calendar. Each day she came in, and I would ask the “typical calendar questions.”

“What is today”? “Which day was yesterday”? “What is tomorrow”? “How many days until _______”?

We went over them four times a week, and after two steady months, my question had been answered.  For a child who mastered skills so easily, I could see that this activity was still too advanced for her.

How do we make calendar time developmentally appropriate?

I had come to a crossroads.

Do I just throw out the whole concept? Do we do it on occasion? Can I adjust this to make it meaningful?

Thankfully, I decided I really wanted to devise a way that could work out for everyone. I desired to provide a solution for those teachers who just love calendar, and I was determined to make it developmentally appropriate for preschoolers (and kindergarteners). And I did it — I created a method to make calendar time interactive and meaningful!

Actually, so many people have commented below with great ideas about how they make calendar time engaging. And I decided to write another post about calendar with developmentally appropriate ways to modify calendar time.

Making an interactive calendar

My interactive calendar, as I will call it,  mostly focuses on math, and I don’t even bring up the days of the week. Well, I do in other meaningful ways, such as with songs from Music With Nancy, but I don’t do it with the interactive calendar.  The main focus of this is to familiarize preschoolers with how a calendar looks and to give them more confidence with numbers and enjoyment in matching, sorting, patterning, number recognition, etc. Here’s how I completely transformed our calendar time.

Making Calendar Time Meaningful

First, I decided that instead of using it in a large group setting, we would have it as a “small center” on one side of my easel. Children can come and go as they please and spend as long as they want. They can touch it, rearrange it, and just explore it!

This post contains affiliate links for products we love and use on a regular basis.

Here are our materials:

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

To make it sturdy enough for little fingers, I laminated all the numbers and added velcro dots.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

Each day I write the number  that we are on with a dry erase crayon. The dry erase markers rub off too easily, so the crayons are perfect. Then I put the numbers in a container for them to find at the bottom of the easel. You may even see child written numbers on our calendar from time to time.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

They love to match the laminated number cards with the handwritten numbers!

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

Calendar time is so much more meaningful now! Sometimes, just one child will play at the calendar center, but lots of times, I find two friends there helping one another. Within a few minutes, I usually see a completed calendar after some great team work.

Calendar time is a daily part of many preschool programs and classrooms. But is calendar time truly necessary? I struggled with calendar time in my own classroom for years until I began to dig deeper and research it.

This has truly been an incredibly successful approach to “calendaresque” activities. I have found my preschooler’s comprehension of numbers and quantity has skyrocketed. Calendar time is not a task to do anymore — it is an interactive experience led by the interest of each child. We don’t even do this every month, just as long as they find it fulfilling and interesting.

Related Posts:

Another way to teach time concepts that are meaningful and relevant to children can be found in the First Calendar Set here which is appropriate for ages 2-7:

First Home or School Calendar - Preschool Inspirations

And here are even more ways to make calendar time developmentally appropriate:

Calendar Time Activities and ideas that have been modified for young children to be developmentally appropriate.


  1. Becky says

    I skimmed through your article, but am pinning to read more. I come from the classroom and now homeschool. I abandoned calendar time last year because it seemed like a waste of time. This year, I’ve been determined to make it work, but it’s not working. Love your premise and philosophy about making learning meaningful! (Stopping by from KBN.)

    • says

      It’s a pleasure to have you, Becky! Thank you so much for the inspiring comment. If you try the interactive calendar (or your own improvised version), I’d love to hear how it goes.

    • Susan says

      I have been teaching Pre-K for 18 years and I have always used a calendar as part of Circle time. It has never really been about the months or the days. It has always been used as a math activity. Number recognition, counting, what number comes next, patterns which are on the calendar pieces that the children match to the dates on the calendar. I think we can take almost anything and make it appropriate for and relevant to our children. Great article!

  2. says

    I love how this interactive calendar doesn’t focus on days. How creative!

    Thank you for stopping by the Thoughtful Spot Weekly Blog Hop this week. We hope to see you drop by our neck of the woods next week!

  3. Stephanie Kay says

    When I started homeschooling my oldest child as a preschooler I tortured us both with calendar time – month, date, weather outside, holidays. PURE TORTURE. His K/1st grade math even had it as part of the curriculum. About 6 months into it I threw it out. Now that my kids are 5, 7, 8, 10 years and another that’s 8 months I can attest to kids not grasping the calendar concept until 7-10 years. They may parrot back the right answers but they don’t really understand what you are talking about. With my 1st child I tried to do it all the “right” way (according to my education background and loads of books). I never did any preschool type stuff with my 4th child and amazingly enough he’s learned it all anyway. Thanks for reminding me why we don’t do calendar work. 🙂 Thanks for linking to Family Fun Friday.

    • says

      Thank you so much for sharing your wealth of experience with us, Stephanie Kay! I do agree about the torture aspect :). It is amazing how children just learn so easily, and it’s when we stress about advanced topics and try to force them, that it just adds more work and frustration. Learning is meant to be natural…not stressful.

  4. Candace says

    I have been teaching preschool for almost 2 years. Up until now I have trying to make calendar work not wanting to admit that it’s not. I love your idea for using the calendar as almost a center, my kids already love mess with it so this will be an easy transition. What is your view on talking about the weather or should that go away to?

    • says

      Thanks for visiting, Candace! I hope your class loves getting to interact with the calendar soon. I wish I had thought of this when I was only two years into it :). As far as weather, I would gauge the interests of your class, but I think that there are some great science lessons that are age appropriate. Does your class enjoy talking about how it feels outside and what the sky looks like? I feel that weather does not have to be taught in circle time necessarily. It can be interactive as well by bringing in a sensory table full of snow or rain. You could use a fan to demonstrate wind or a hair dryer to blow warm air on them. And I have some weather ideas in the works that will be coming out in a couple of months. Happy teaching!

  5. Mary Catherine says

    I guess I fall in the middle. I like doing circle time with my preschoolers, and that involves the calendar. But I’ve never been one to over-analyze the calendar. Maybe because I don’t over-do it I’ve never had it be a tough time during our preschool day. I LOVE the thoughts and information you shared, and I ADORE how you added it into your day in a way that is so meaningful for your students! 🙂

    • says

      Thank you for the wonderful and insightful comment, Mary Catherine!! I think you bring up a good point which is that teaching is all about balance. As long as we are using children’s interests and involvement as a guide, we will continue to provide meaningful activities. We can use anything in the classroom as a tool, and awesome teachers like you provide environments that are child-centered and help easily bring out the innate abilities and skills of the children.

  6. says

    Wow! I found this post really interesting and it leaves me in a stupor of thought. I have read articles like the one you site about calendar and time not being an age appropriate skill for preschoolers, However I have a recently turned five year old boy who knows the days of the week, can tell you what yesterday was or tomorrow will be, and also site significant things that happen on those days. For example, my son can tell you that today is Tuesday, which means that tomorrow is Wednesday and we have preschool, and that in four days is Saturday and Dad doesn’t go to work.

    All that being said, I don’t focus at all on yesterday, today, and tomorrow during calendar time. We focus on the months and seasons/holidays that accompany each month. We mark important dates on the calendar, such as birthdays and holidays, and use the calendar as a way to organize the passing of time to reach those events. Last year I used calendar time as a way to reinforce patterns, but this year I will be doing something different. As I give your post more thought, you may find that I will write up my own using you as an inspiration!

    • Katie says

      I think you bring up such an important factor, Sarah. You have set the stage for meaningful learning by personalizing calendar time with important events that are helping your son conceptualize the concept of time. He is hugely benefiting by having you bring those days to life for him. I’ve definitely seen lots of five-year-old students with emergent skills in this area, and my own daughter knows many concepts too, despite the fact that we don’t do calendar time. I can’t wait to see what you come up with :).

  7. says

    I love calendar time but I think it totally depends on your approach. There is so much meaningful math that can be taught on a developmentally appropriate and more concrete (less abstract) ways like you did here so the time is reaching every child!

    • Katie says

      I love your child-focused approach, Devany! I definitely agree that concrete methods are the way to make calendar time more appropriate. It certainly can be an enjoyable and enriching experience with a teacher who focuses on developmentally appropriate practices and is aware of the children’s interests and abilities. Thank you for your wonderful insight. 🙂

  8. Lauren says

    Hi! I loved this post, but also have a technique I have used that is still incorporated as a group calendar activity. I cut out rectangles of construction paper in each color of the rainbow. Approximately 4 by 6 inches for mon-fri (red-blue) and then skinnier purple ones for sat and sun on each end. I put them together in a line and laminated them. I did write the day of the week small at the top. We had a star called today and we moved it onto the color each day. The preschoolers learned the concept of the motion of a calendar going left to right. If we had something special one day I would put a little marker there. For example if it is Monday (red day) and they have a special party on wed (yellow day) we can still count up to it and show progression of time without having a large number to count to!!

    • Katie says

      What a beautiful way to incorporate that in your class, Lauren! I am especially fond of using color differentiation, so I think it is a brilliant idea! It is a pleasure to have you visit, and thank you for all you do for young children!

  9. Rhiana says

    Thank you! I am just starting a homeschool preschool journey with my daughter and our circle time/morning time is just not taking off the way I was hoping. This gives me the courage to really make amends and let her lead the way with this! Thank you!

    • Katie says

      I am so excited for you, Rhiana! Learning can be so engaging and exciting, and I can tell your homeschool journey is going to be a wonderful one :).

  10. says

    i have been looking for a meaningful way to do calendar in my class- but have been doing it for so long it’s hard to change! But I am definitely willing- and I like this idea a lot! Now I just need to revamp our morning meeting! Any ideas?

  11. Mary Gould says

    I recently started teaching 2 yr olds, in my classroom is a calender . I tried it for a week and then asked myself what am i doing? I stopped doing the calendar but always do some type of counting activity. Love this article.

    • Katie says

      Thank you so much, Mary. I love how you are evaluating the needs of your class! You sound like a wonderful teacher :).

  12. Sarah Bremner says

    I work with children with additional needs and if something interrupts our day and we miss calendar and weather time my class do remind me.
    We use interactive whiteboard where I have built in links to the Web pages for ‘Starfall’ calendar and BBC weather site. The independent use of IT links has benefited us all and memory skills develop as we mark class and family birthdays, special school events which will come up each month and revisit day by day in a particular month..
    The maths we talk about surprises me! And when colleagues watch the children engage in this activity they say they are amazing and could teach their older main class children a lot.
    No comparison to past velcro attached days of the week etc!

    • Katie says

      What a wonderful opportunity you and your class have to use that technology, Sarah! I love your focus on meaningful days and events. I’ve never used an interactive whiteboard, but I’d love to get my hands on one some day. Thanks for visiting!

  13. Kati Henry says

    Reading this a year after you posted it looks like. I am required to do a group calendar, but it’s very interactive. My only goal is for them to see the relevancy of numbers and to simply see both numbers and letters in use. I also use it for vocabulary. I find that kids are curious about what adults do and like to participate in our “adult” activities.They love to guess the “answers”. Still debating the use of electronic calendars which is what most of their parents use. I have shown them my electronic calendars and how they work but that’s as far as I have gone with that. What I have not done, is use it as a center like you have. I love the idea. Where I teach, no one is required to perform in any way or even participate, but they almost always gather when I sit there.
    Thanks for the extension into a center idea. I am excited.

    • Katie says

      I love hearing about how you engage your class, Kati! You sound like such a fantastic teacher, and I hope your class enjoys my version. It’s such a pleasure to have you comment!

  14. says

    You have probably read this already in one form or another, but I am applauding you in my little corner of the South! This is my favorite version of the calendar that I have seen! I am all about meaningful play, and this version is truly it! Thank you for sharing!

  15. Maryssa says

    Wow! This is absolutely amazing! I cannot express how much I love this. I work with 3 year olds….16-19 to be exact. I used to love the calendar but it became hard and I was aware that it wasn’t meaningful for them in a way that wasn’t real. Preschoolers need REAL. And you made it real. My kids love to grab the numbers and I feel horrible for shoeing them away. Thank you so much for this. I cannot wait to expose my class to this new technique. 🙂

    • RoxAnna Smith says

      Thank you for your ideas of placing the calendar in an interactive way. What things do you do during the time you previously did calendar?

  16. Michelle says

    I love this idea! I too stopped the traditional calendar time and turned it into more of a math centered calendar time that was more meaningful to the students. I chose to do calendar at the end of the day or before the students go home. We chose a pattern for our calendar. Most of the time I use sticky note or cut out paper shapes. Whoever is the calender helper gets to draw a picture of their favorite things they did at school that day. They tell me what it is and I dictate a sentence onto the sticky note, I make sure they write their name and the number day on the note. I will assist those who cannot write their names or my aide will assist. We will then count the number of days till a field trip or birthday because those are things that are meaningful to preschoolers. We sky-write the numbers and I touch on the day and month but never make them remember or repeat them, It has become one of their favorite times of the day and if we don’t get time to do it, they always let me know!

    • Katie says

      This is beautiful, Michelle!! What a perfect way to make the day meaningful to your students!! You sound like an incredible teacher :).

  17. Debbie says

    I do a seasons calendar, I put the name of the season eg autumn in the middle of a large piece of card and around this I put pictures for each month in that season, eg September is pictures related to going to school, October has harvest and Halloween pictures and November has guy fawkes. Then I have pictures of typical autumn weather.the children love it and because it is bright autumnal colours all the children from 1-10 yrs like looking at it and talking about it.

    • Katie says

      What a great modification with elements that are relevant and meaningful to the children! Thank you for all you do for young children, Debbie!

  18. Jodi says

    I have a home daycare and mainly ages 2-4 sit for circle/group time. I have a calendar. What should we focus on for this age group would you say??

  19. EGFP says

    Hi and thank you for your posting. I have worked in a pre-K classroom for 12 years and I have always struggled with “teaching” the calendar. Every year, there have been one or two children who ” get” the calendar, but I think they arrived in our classroom with that knowledge. They can look at the calendar and tell you how many days until the weekend, and have a sense of the difference between days/months/seasons. They also understand the concept of the year and when their birthday is, as well as the birthdays of family members. However, most of the children don’t get it, and this year I don’t seem to have any children who are more advanced in their calendar knowledge. I use the calendar more as a visual tool for patterns and counting and we sing a “days of the week” song. They get a kick out of guessing which piece of the pattern is next, and they like to count the days. But, I think they are not really grasping the larger picture of days, months, seasons and year. I do wish our program wouldn’t emphasize the use of the calendar and I have, at least, managed to eliminate it as a daily activity. I’m gratified to learn that many of you see the same level of understanding (or NOT understanding) among your own preschoolers!


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