On Months, Seasons, and on Years of Teaching

Robert has known names of the months and names of the seasons for at least ten years. He learned, long ago,  the order in which months or seasons follow each other. But only lately, he has learned to associate warm clothes with winter and  bathing suits with summer.  Robert has learned also the  activities that come with different seasons. He knows that he skis in the winter but rakes leaves in the fall.

He makes, however,  many mistakes while trying to place different holidays in the months they are celebrated.

Most importantly, he still cannot relate the seasons to the correct months.

Four years ago, I tried to help him establish that relation by making season/month wheel. It was a large circle divided into four differently colored sections representing four seasons and into 12 sections separated by large, black lines representing months. (Two-thirds of March were the color of winter and one-third the color of spring. I treated similarly June,  September, and December.) When Robert had to place a given date in an appropriate season (as many of the problems in Saxon Math 4 asked him to do), I quickly directed him to that wheel.  He had problems especially around dates close to equinoxes or solstices.  I made many worksheets.  Some of them were based on the ideas from the Saxon Math, some were my own. I tried to demonstrate the pattern: two whole months in one season followed by the month split between two seasons, two whole months in one…Robert still did not make proper connection.  I moved on.

To other subjects, to next lessons.

During  some of those lessons, Robert learned to use his knuckles to state the number of the days in each month.

He has also learned that March is the third month of the year and that April is the fourth.  But he is not sure about August or December. I have tried to teach that for a few years by now in a simple way:

A. Robert wrote names of the months in order, then he wrote numbers next to them.  When he was asked to write a date using digits, he had to just look up at what he had done a minute before.

I did not go to the next step in teaching that skill and I did not reverse this order. What should I have done but did not do was to:

B.First, present Robert with a request to substitute numbers for names of the months and THEN prompt him (suggest to him more or less openly) to help himself by writing the list of months and numbers.

While in “A” , I  demonstrated to Robert the rule governing the substitution, in “B” Robert was learning a tool to solve the problem himself.

It is a huge difference!

Now, I am trying to repair that oversight.

During the last year, Robert understood the word “ago”  as going back and subtracting days, months, or years and the expression “from now”  as going forward and adding units of time.  Understanding “ago” and “from now” is a major achievement.  Those are pretty abstract concepts. It took me many months to understand that.

Today, as Robert tried to find out what day was four months ago, he reached for a season/month wheel all by himself:   He moved his finger counterclockwise on the wheel as he attempted to pronounce: “February, January, December, November”. When he started writing the date: “November 13, …” I stopped him. “Look Robert”, I showed him the month/season wheel, “Look, you crossed back to the previous year…”

Robert produced undecipherable sound and then wrote: “2012” to finish the date. I was not sure he remembered what I had told him a year or more ago, about moving to the previous year or to the following year every time  his fingers cross the border between January and December one way or another.

He did.  He remembered!

No, he still doesn’t know that July is a summer month.

We have many months, seasons, and years to practice , to learn, and to live.

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