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Passport to Education: Exploring World Calendars

Janelle Cox

Passport to Education: Exploring World Calendars in the New YearIt's the start of the New Year. For those of you that follow the Western calendar (Gregorian calendar), this means making resolutions and beginning a new year on January 1st with a fresh start. This is the perfect time to introduce students to the notion of calendars.

Following are some lesson ideas and activities on world calendars. Before you introduce students to any of these activities, make sure they are familiar with the days of the week and the months. If you are unsure, then a quick review can be helpful.

Exploring the Gregorian Calendar

The Gregorian calendar is the most widely used, and divides the year into twelve months and 365 days. It also accounts for "leap day" which means every four years there are 366 days. This calendar is based on the moon's rotation of the earth, and the earth's rotation around the sun. By now students most likely know the days of the week and the months, but they may have a hard time remembering how many days are in each month.  A fun way to teach students how to remember this if they forget is the "knuckle method." The method goes like this; your index finger knuckle represents January (the knuckle represents the longer months) and then February would be the space in-between (this represents the shorter months), March would be the knuckle, on so on and so forth.

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Inventing a New Calendar

The Gregorian calendar is pretty accurate, but what if we could make it better? A fun activity is to have students try and invent a new calendar. Pair students together, to try and figure out how to make our calendar better, and more convenient. Start a discussion about how they could go about this. Ask questions like; how can we rearrange the months into a useful order? What if we just had a yearly calendar instead of a monthly one? What if each month had the same number of days per week? What would happen with the holidays? Can all the dates fall on the same day each year? How would that work? Let their imaginations and creativity go wild, and see what they come up with.

Exploring the Chinese Calendar

The Chinese lunar calendar is based on the positions of the sun and moon. According to this calendar their new year begins on February 10th. Unlike the Gregorian calendar, the Chinese associate an animal with each year in the twelve year cycle. This is known as the animals of the zodiac. According to the lunar calendar, people that are born during a particular cycle are known to have the same characteristics of the animal that is associated with that time. To help students understand the concept of the Chinese calendar, have them look up what each zodiac animal symbolizes. Then have the students research the animal that is associated with the year they were born, and see if they share the same characteristics. Once the task is completed, have students make a list of the traits they think should be added to their sign. Check out our printable lesson companion.

Exploring the Islamic Calendar

Many Islamic countries use a lunar calendar called the Hijrah. This calendar is similar to the Gregorian calendar because it divides the year into twelve months, but they only have 354 days in their year. This year, their New Year's Day begins on Sunday, November 3rd. Their calendar is based on the revolutions of the moon. In order for students to understand the concept of a lunar calendar, have them create their own.  Students should record the type of moon they see each day, and count and note the number of days between full moons for at least one month. Then they can try and create a calendar based on the information they recorded. Discuss as a class the observations they made; what were the difficulties? How useful were the moon's cycles? Could we have more than seven days in a week? This activity will help them really grasp what the lunar calendar is all about.

These are only a few of the calendars that the world follows. Other calendars such as the Mayan and Jewish calendar are also a lot of fun for the children to learn about.