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Just as literacy requires daily interaction with a variety of specified information and practice utilizing that information, so does math. With one or two short, intentional math interactions each day, you can help your students build vital math skills that last a lifetime.

Remember, studies show that all children need exposure to information routinely, consistently, and repeatedly to increase their learning chances. Most children, especially those who struggle with learning differences or disabilities, need information to be repeatedly offered to them 6 or more times before it can be committed to memory and used.  Some children need countless exposures, up into the hundreds. 

This number of exposures can be accomplished when skills are part of intentional daily routines. 

To increase the quality of the interaction, remember to engage their eyes, ears, and voices. In addition, add movement (either by writing at the first or second grade level, or large-motor movement for younger children). . 

Reinventing Calendar Time

Calendar Time was what we called the daily group math routine for years. Teachers had a large interactive calendar on the wall for children to practice counting from 1 to 31 (depending on the number of days in the month). Many teachers incorporated patterns and algebraic thinking.  

The days of the week were listed, the months of the year were listed, and the year was displayed. This area also included ways to group things (often straws or popsicle sticks) in groups of 5, 10, 25, or 100. Most often these were used to count the number of school days which had passed. 

Other displays included large examples of coins and paper money, shapes, a hundred chart (or higher), spelling and examples of color words, and any other material that might need to be introduced or reviewed. 

The problem with calendar time was mainly that it could go on for what seemed like forever, and that daily infinite possibility of expanded time faced by very young students could feel terribly boring. One student at a time generally got to participate actively in moving things around, answering questions, or leading the class in rote memory exercises. 

This lack of participation requirement combined with long sitting times could be detrimental to the interest level of students, not to mention the classroom management of teachers.

Calendar Time in and of itself is not a bad notion. In fact, with a few tweaks, it can be more than just salvageable. Here are a few suggestions we’ve put together:

1. Make it interactive for the whole group.
Sure, you can still have your calendar wall if you want to. Make it electronic and display it on the projected screen. However, give each student a way to record or document the things you talk about along with the “leader” or “helper of the day”.

There are lots of calendar journal options out there these days (we found ours on back when there was only ONE option!), and several of the journals offered included pages so you can differentiate for the skill level of your students. 

We suggest making one packet for each student for each month. We like to include a page with a calendar, a page for tracking the weather, and one daily page with specific daily activities and practices for almost every school day for that month (there are usually about 20 school days per month in September, October, April, and May - the other months vary due to holidays… or being February). 

Some years, we’d make copies of individual sheets for every day but Friday, as it was inevitable that at least one student was sick and would want to complete their missed journal page, or we’d have a picture day, or a field trip and have to skip a day. 15 was usually a pretty good average. 

Pre-K CAN do this - we’ve tried it - but we recommend making only one page with very limited activities and placing them in page protectors so students can write and wipe (we like using thin expo markers for them to write with and fresh-from-the-package socks for erasers).

2. Limit What You Teach. 

Pre-K students don’t need much until about January. They don’t have the ability to really understand concepts of time yet (yesterday, today, tomorrow, next week, or month), so in the beginning, stick to concepts of their daily lives. Talking about time in regard to activities and meals is perfect for this age.

You can certainly show a calendar, talk about today and tomorrow, place special days on the calendar, and talk about the days of the week, but limit the time you spend on these concepts if at all possible until they are developmentally appropriate. Singing songs is fine, and letting them have calendars to play and practice with is a great thing to include in their social play and writing centers. 

Kindergarteners are more able to understand some of the concepts presented regarding time, but only introduce one element of the calendar at a time. Be sure you’ve got 80% to 90% of your students at mastery of that one thing before building to the next. Even when following along on their own personal page, it’s really challenging for many Kindergarteners to follow along and understand what they are doing, especially in the middle of the year. 

Kindergarteners are still trying to figure out spatial information, so remember that you can’t always get them to even copy things from the board. You may also have trouble with them copying from a paper in front of them. Some teachers do the whole group calendar lesson by projecting their own page in their own calendar packet, then hand it over to those few children who cannot copy from the board but can copy from the page.

For children who don’t have the capacity for copying at all, a great tip is to write on the page with a highlighter or highlighters. They can then trace over your writing and at least begin to gain some spatial sense that way.  

Many children can skip count at least by tens by the end of Kindergarten. 

You may even have to continue those routines with first graders.

First graders can also typically count and represent numbers from between 100 and 120 (at the beginning of the year) and 1,000 (by the end of the year). They can count change in one type of coin (sometimes mixed coins of two values; generally they aren’t quite ready for mixing all four coin values until the end of first grade or beginning of second). 

They are beginning to understand time more specifically, are adept with patterns, and do simple addition and subtraction independently. They can also skip count fairly extensively with a chart in front of them.

By second grade, nearly all children should be able to copy from the board and discuss the inner workings of a calendar. They should also be able to:

  • record the daily temperature
  • complete and extend patterns
  • identify, compose, and reflect on numbers
  • count pictures of change (first in collections of individual coins, then in mixed values)
  • do two-digit plus or minus one digit problems
  • tell time to the hour, half-hour, quarter ‘till, and quarter-after
  • skip count without visual aids (for the most part) 
  • manage a calendar independently 

  1. Be mindful of time.
    Pre-k students can sit for about 3 minutes when they first arrive. If you really, really work on it, they may be able to sit for 10-15 minutes by the end of the year, although many kindergarteners struggle with 15 minutes.

    Although they may have the capacity to go a bit longer in first and second grades, don’t push it. Do as much as you can in that 15 minute span. You can always add a second whole group session for an equal amount of time later in math.

    Frontload the things they need most AND what they are closest to understanding. This rule is appropriate for all age groups.

    An example of this is that if your Kindergarteners can count by tens using the decades (10, 20, 30, etc…), don’t push forward to counting by thousands next. Instead, move to counting by ten beginning with an arbitrary number, like 36 (46, 56, 66, etc…). Always be careful to only go one step further or deeper into content or abandon counting by 10s all together.

    If they can count nickels and pennies separately with mastery nearly every time, then add counting pennies and nickels in mixed quantities. Don’t advance to counting all coins in mixed quantities just yet.

    You might not count to 120 every day, and that’s ok. There may be something more pressing that you need to work on some days. We recommend building your math circle time (which is what we hear most teachers calling the former calendar time) by assessing and organizing what your group needs most.

    If your class can count by tens, but half of them can’t make a pattern to save their lives, you’ll want to review skip counting by tens once every week or so and start practicing patterning daily. 

We always recommend that teachers keep all of the standards they’re covering with a calendar or math circle as a hard copy on a clipboard. Each standard should have a column or row, and each student’s name should occupy the opposite (either column or row). As you monitor their calendar participation, indicate which children are demonstrating mastery of each concept you review. 

This is great documentation, but it also makes it very easy to see which areas your students need more practice with, and which ones are mastered or close to mastering. For those areas where your class struggles, build instruction or practice into your daily routine. For those areas where they are competent, incorporate the skill less often.

Don’t completely stop reviewing any skill once you’ve started it. Continue reviewing the whole year, even if you’re just doing so once a week or once every other week. 

Other important things to review daily are estimation, graphing, numeracy, rote counting (forward, backward, skip counting, beginning at any number, ending at any number), number of the day, one-to-one correspondence, as well as recognizing and creating quantities of objects. 


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