I've started to notice signs that Nicolas is ready to begin learning to read! He identifies individual letters in print, points at words in books, and pretends to read while holding books; sometimes he'll recite the words in books from memory. Similarly, Nicolas is always asking when events, i.e. birthdays, holidays, and special activities, are going to take place.
So naturally the teacher in me decided it was time to add a little structured learning to our daily schedule and start what we refer to as Calendar & Letter Time. Every day around 9 or 10 AM, Nicolas and I sit together at the bottom of the staircase for a little lesson about the following topics: the month, the day of the week, the date, the weather, the letter of the day, and the sound the letter makes. The lesson itself takes about 5 minutes, which is about all that his 2 (almost 3) year old attention span can take. It’s the perfect lesson for learning and reviewing early literacy and numeracy skills.
Calendar & Letter Time Materials
The materials I use for Calendar and Letter Time include Carson Dellosa Education Nature Explorers Calendar and Alphabet Pocket Flash Cards. I purchased both items at local teacher supply store The Learning Circle, my go to store for educational resources, learning supplies, and toys.
The Nature Explorers Calendar comes with the following 87 pieces:
- 1 calendar
- 12 monthly headers
- 41 cover up squares (these are the dates that go on the calendar)
- 17 special occasion cover ups
- 1 days of the week chart with 3 arrows
- 1 months of the year chart with arrow
- 1 season label
- 5 season label overlays
- 1 weather chart with 3 arrows
- Resource guide
The Alphabet Pocket Flashcards Come with 56 two sided cards. Each letter is represented on two cards. The front of the card shows the uppercase and lowercase of a letter in addition to a photograph of an item that starts with the letter. The back of the card also shows the uppercase and lowercase letter in addition to showing how to spell the photographed item featured on the front of the card.
I knew that this activity would be a daily occurrence so I chose to hang the materials on a lower section of the wall (so Nicolas could see it and use it with ease) in a spot that we could easily access everyday (the bottom of the staircase). I used HoldTu to hang the calendar and other poster parts to the wall. HoldTu is a great adhesive. It feels like putty, it’s reusable, and doesn’t harm the walls.
Calendar & Letter Time Activities
We start the lesson with a question about the day’s date. I’ll use the day I published this blog post as an example: Wednesday, January 16. Dates 1-15 were already on the calendar since those dates had already passed.
I ask Nicolas if he knows what the day’s date is. “What number is on the cover up square?” I ask him.
Sometimes he knows the number, and sometimes he doesn’t. If he doesn’t know the number, I simply tell him the number. If it’s a two digit number, I’ll ask him if he can identify each number individually, e.g. 1 and 6. Then I’ll tell him that 1 and 6 beside each other in this order is sixteen.
After he’s successfully identified and named the number, we look at the calendar together. Pointing at the first cover up (the first day of the month), we move our fingers to the next day, and count each day aloud together until we get to the current date (the 16th). We make sure we point at each day on the calendar as we count. Then we adhere the day’s cover up to the calendar with HoldTu.
From there we identify the day of the week on the calendar and move the ‘Today Is’ arrow to the current day. Sometimes we sing “Days of the Week’ to the tune of the Adams Family Song.
Then, we identify the month. We summarize our findings by stating the full date. “Today is Wednesday, January 16.”
Next we open the front door and check the weather and temperature. We make adjustments to the weather chart and discuss the season.
The final activity is Letter Time. I let Nicolas choose a letter that he is interested in instead of going in order from A-Z. He chooses the letter from the flash cards hanging on the alphabet garland hanging in his learning nook. I feel like this gives him some autonomy over his learning, something I like to keep in mind as he gets older and his learning gets more structured. This week he chose the letter Q.
Pointing at the flash card, I ask Nicolas what the picture on the card is. I do this to make sure he can properly identify the picture on the card. Believe it or not, sometimes he doesn’t know the name of the photographed item on the card. If he needs more context I find an example of the pictured item somewhere in the house or find a video of the item on a YouTube. YouTube videos come in handy for pictures of instruments and animals.
Then I ask him to identify the letter by asking him, “What letter is this?”
The thing I like about Alphabet Pocket Flash Cards is that they have the uppercase and lowercase letter. We refer to them as Big Letter and Little Letter, e.g. Big Q and Little q. Being able to identify both the uppercase and lowercase is an important pre-reading skill that will also lend itself to learning to write in the future. I have him repeat the name of the letter back to me as a review.
To end the lesson I tell Nicolas the sound that the letter makes, and give him examples of words that start with the sound, e.g. quilt, quack, quiet. I ask him to repeat the sound back to me, and that ends the lesson.
Review, Retention, & Extra Learning
We do this lesson everyday. And when he can independently name the letter and verbalize the sound that the letter makes he gets to choose a new letter to identify.
Research has shown that reviewing newly learned material helps with retention. So once a week I ask him if he remembers the names and sounds of 1 or 2 random letters he has already learned.
Calendar learning is naturally repetitive and lends itself wonderfully to reviewing counting, cardinality, and base ten concepts.
I keep the learning fairly casual and short, and I use his personal interest in topics as a guide. This ensures that he stays engaged and excited about new learning.
So far, Calendar and Letter Time have proven to be very helpful. He enjoys marking special days on the calendar with a sticker and likes to count the number of days until a special event. It has saved me a lot of time trying to explain when things will happen and has made time more concrete for Nicolas, which is a bonus for us all!
I chose Calendar and Letter Time as a first structured lesson because of his natural interests and curiosity about the topics. Questions such as, “when do I go to Grandma’s house, when do I get to see my friend Grant, and how come we aren’t going to see Paw Patrol Live today,” were natural indicators that he was ready to learn calendar concepts.
Likewise, him pointing to letters and saying, “Mommy, that’s an S.” Or him pointing to words in books and “reading” from memory let me know that he was ready to start learning phonics.
Your child might start showing you that they are ready to learn new concepts when she begins to point out shapes in pictures. She may talk about the color of an item or ask how to spell words. She may try to write her name or ask you a lot of questions about a topic. These are signs that it’s a good time to start teaching and engaging her in new learning material. Using a child’s interests as a guide is a great way to engage him or her in learning and makes the learning fun and relevant.
We will add more learning material to Calendar and Letter Time as Nicolas gets older and his attention span grows. I will use the learning and development cues he gives me to make changes when the time is right.
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