“How many plates do we need at the table for dinner tonight?”
“Look at that sign! It’s a yellow triangle.”
“What can you do to make your block tower taller?”
These are all examples of how we talk about math with our children every day. From infancy, children begin to construct ideas about math through their daily routines and experiences, as well as interactions with trusted adults. Helping them see how math plays a role in their everyday lives allows children to begin to develop important math skills at a very young age.
There have been studies that show that a child’s level of mathematical ability at kindergarten entry are a key predictor of future academic success. Parents, teachers, and caregivers can give kids a head start by helping them become familiar with essential math concepts. Successful early experiences in math have a powerful effect on the interest and skill levels that students will have later in life.
There are two key skills that children should acquire at an early age. The first is strategic counting, which is the ability to count to solve problems such as “How many cars do you see?” The second is magnitude comparisons, which is an understanding of the concepts of more and less, and how they affect real life situations. The ability to discern magnitude is crucial for the development of mathematical reasoning skills.
In addition to those two key skills, there are several other skills that are important for later math learning. One of these is number recognition, where numbers and linked with their names. Retrieval of basic arithmetic facts without having to count is another important skill. This allows children to dedicate their working memory to solving problems instead of recalling facts. Also, the ability to solve simple word problems can help children develop strong math skills later in life. A simple word problem can be presented to a child by asking questions such as, “There are two eggs here. If I get one more from the carton, how many will I have?”
At The Learning Experience, we believe in making math real by teaching it in the context of our children’s everyday lives. Young children learn math best by engaging in hands-on projects and activities, and by seeing how math is part of many aspects of their lives. Number sense, geometry, operations, measurement, patterns, and much more are taught across the curriculum for children as young as toddlers. Math concepts blend seamlessly into literacy activities, music, art, and science.
Our enrichment program, Marvelous Math®, also teaches children how math plays an important role in their lives. Throughout the program, children explore topics such as number recognition, patterns, sorting, measurements, and basic equations. The variety of songs, stories, and manipulatives make learning math fun. Also, since mathematics is a fun and exciting building process, the Marvelous Math enrichment kits are sent home with each child at the end of the session so they can continue to enjoy and learn through hands-on activities at home.
Parents can also promote math learning at home with their children. Since math is truly part of so many of our daily activities, there are countless opportunities to engage children in math and build their number and reasoning skills. Here are some ideas to try:
· Play games together. Keep the pleasure in math by playing games with your children. There are many games that rely on and build math skills. There certainly are a myriad of websites, computer games and phone apps that are worthwhile, but don’t forget about the board games and other nondigital games you loved as a child. The classics that require manipulating game pieces and cards, calculating as you go, may have the same appeal for your kids as they did for you.
· Bake or build something together. Whether you’re baking cupcakes or making a birdfeeder, math is an integral part of these activities. Counting, measuring, adding, and multiplying are all part of baking and building. Your child can measure out a cup of flour, double the ingredients in a recipe, measure a tower of blocks, measure how high to hang a homemade bird feeder, or count down the minutes until the cookies are done.
· Plan a party. Whether it’s a fun-filled birthday party or a small dinner party for immediate family, there are many math concepts involved in the planning process. Your child can help with the shopping for food and paper goods, balloons, party favors, etc. There will definitely be some math involved, because those all come packaged in different quantities. Then they can set up the table, counting out all the plates, napkins, cups, and silverware.
· Keep a positive attitude. Young children are eager to learn. Regardless of your own perceived math abilities, avoid talking negatively about math. Attitude has everything to do with learning. Working on math skills is like a sport, in that practice and encouragement are essential for success. Encourage your child to persevere through problem solving. and reassure them that they can develop strong mathematical skills through effort and practice.
Young children are naturally curious, which makes the early years the best time to introduce mathematics. There are countless opportunities for you to support your young child’s early learning, including talking about and experiencing math throughout the day. This will help them to develop critical thinking and reasoning skills that will serve as a foundation for success in the coming scho