Working towards mastering executive functioning skills early on in life is one of the essential skills every child needs to acquire.
Executive function is a term used to describe the mental ability of an individual to plan, execute everyday tasks, complete checklists, exercise self-control when tempted to avoid doing important tasks, possessing the will to avoid procrastination.
So much in life depends on it, no adult can argue with that. These skills are particularly hard to gain when the child lacks intrinsic motivation because often motivation is presented in the form of punishment and shame.
However, the way we view discipline and mastering executive functioning skills in the Montessori world is quite different.
Children from early on in life are always given and shown step-by-step guides. There are no shortcuts: “We always clean our spills”, “We do not play with anything else until we put away an activity we just completed”, or “We always place our work on a mat”.
Lessons children receive on how to clean their dishes, wash their hands, and prepare a snack are very precise and require the child to focus and follow exact steps.
Children are also taught “whys” behind the rules: “so others have a clean place to eat”, “so others know where to find the work you just completed”, etc.
Children learn to complete each step with great attention to detail and at the same time grasp ideas about socially acceptable behaviors.
In the end, when it comes to showing up on time, applying for a job, or signing up for a phone, they do not get overwhelmed, they learn to break every goal into simple steps and they are aware that their actions or inaction may affect others.
So, what does all that have to do with calendars? Calendars in a classroom and at home play an important role. They help to teach plan, and observe the passage of time. They are the child’s first hands-on planning tool that he or she can “touch” and “feel”.
Time is an abstract term and it requires some great visuals for children to grasp the concept. Aside from being the first lesson in history the child receives in the Montessori-minded learning space, a calendar facilitates the development of those important executive function skills.
Students learn to prepare for future events, and anticipate changes that are going to happen in the future.
There are many other important skills children gain when working with the calendar:
- explore the names of the months and days of the week
- practice one-to-one correspondence
- learn to plan in advance
- practice simple subtraction and addition when calculating how many days/weeks/months are left before a certain event
- multiplication by 7 or 5
- delayed gratification
- learn about natural consequences and deadlines by assigning days when tasks should be completed
- and many more
The linear calendar is great for presenting the whole year in one line across the classroom where students can observe the passage of time, and learn the concept of years, months, days, and seasons.
It presents wonderful opportunities for them to observe the length of the year and count down to an event. You can read more about the linear calendar here.
In some Montessori classrooms, teachers like to use bead representation. Each month has its own color and it is very much a hands-on approach.
Here are some great examples of perpetual calendars
In my classroom, at the beginning of each year, the students helped me to create our own perpetual classroom calendar. Children designed illustrations and each month we marked all the birthdays and important events that followed.
Now, with my children, we use the calendar mobile, we sing the “The Earth Goes Around the Sun” song every time before completing every section of the mobile. It’s a great way to practice counting, and word recognition, and learn to observe weather and changes in seasons for young children.