Recent studies show that “early mathematics knowledge and skills are the most important predictors not only for later math achievement but also for achievement in other content areas and grade retention.” The results of these studies suggest that focusing specifically on number sense and counting could greatly affect later achievement.
From early in life, many children learn to rote count, saying the number words in the correct order. This is an accomplishment that should be celebrated, but it is not sufficient for later math achievement.
Children need extensive experience counting objects and comparing sets of objects to fully understand the concept of number and how that concept can be used to solve problems. Schools and daycare centers may use manipulatives, typically items purchased at school supply companies. However, math manipulatives are all around! There is no need to purchase expensive items to help your child develop foundational math skills.
At Kohl Children’s Museum, we partner with a great team of early childhood researchers, professional development providers and teachers at Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative. One of the methods they promote is Mathematizing Daily Experiences. Simply put, mathematizing is using everyday activities and items to talk about math with young children. By doing so, everyday objects and routine activities become rich opportunities for math talk and problem solving. Here are a few examples to get you started:
1) Children can sort and count their toys when cleaning up. Ask your child to put all the stuffed animals in one container and all the blocks in another; this encourages sorting sets of objects. Ask if there are more teddy bears or blocks – Now you are comparing sets based on the attribute of number. Sorting and counting (and thus seeing the world through a math lens) can be done when putting dishes away or folding laundry. It also gives you and your child something interesting to talk about while doing mundane daily chores.
2) Count each stair as you walk up and down. This helps your child attach number words to an action. Ending the counting when you get to the final step and saying, “ten steps in all”, helps your child understand cardinal numbers, or the numbers used to describe the size of a set. In this example, 10 is the size of the set of stairs.
3) A process called “counting on” prepares children for higher math functions. For example, walk up and count the first 4 stairs, stopping on stair 4. When you continue walking up, start with 5, not back at 1. Starting with 5 and continuing to the top stair, 10, helps your child understand that the set of stairs can be broken down into two smaller sets, one set that includes stairs 1 – 4 and another set that includes stairs 5 – 10. Helping your child see that the larger set of 10 can be separated in two smaller sets is critical to later success in addition, subtraction, and multiplication.
4) In this short video clip, Angela Giglio Andrews, recipient of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Mathematics Teaching, describes a scene where a mother uses french fries to engage in math-talk with her young child.
Math experiences can and should be relaxed and fun! We can mathematize many of the experience young children have during the day. What interesting ways can you think of to incorporate math into your child’s daily routines?
During this holiday season, adults carefully choose toys to give to children only to notice the children spending as much if not more time playing with the box the toy came in. To those who work with young children, this comes as no surprise. Open ended, real life objects, like boxes, are low-cost sources of endless creativity and enjoyment. The cardboard box is even in the National Toy Hall of Fame (http://www.toyhalloffame.org/toys/cardboard-box)!
In November, the Kohl Children’s Museum staff brought in a wide range of boxes from home, put them in the Adventures in Art studio, added some simple art supplies and let the children create and recreate a cityscape. The activity was loosely tied to the children’s book Abuela by Arthur Dorros, one of the books featured in our visiting exhibit Storyland, but children were encouraged to create and add whatever they wanted to our rapidly growing city.
The children worked individually and collaboratively to create detailed buildings, planes and cars, gardens, replicas of the museum and so much more.
Each building was unique and represented the experiences of the child who created it. We had a room filled with boxes, and none of them looked the same.
Whether you end up with a collection of small boxes or just one large box at the end of the holiday season, we highly recommend saving them and letting your children get creative. Don’t take our word for it, check out these award winning short films featuring cardboard boxes:
The Adventures of a Cardboard Box by Studiocanoe
Caine’s Arcade by Nirvan Mullick