Long before your little peanuts will be required to demonstrate algebra proficiency on an exam, they will look to you — their parent — to help them lay the foundations of their math knowledge and understanding. Starting when they are babies, their brains are buzzing with activity, making sense of the world around them and learning the beginnings of math concepts just by interacting with their environment. And even before they enter preschool, you can teach your children math beyond counting and number recognition by occupying them with fun activities where they won’t even know they are learning math.
Where to start:
Water might just be the key to preschool happiness, and the water table invites children to explore concepts like volume and measurement. According to Carol M. Gross, at Southernearlychildhood.org, “Recurring water play with varying tools and materials is certainly a natural venue through which to support beginning and ongoing science learning.” As children pour, predict and watch objects float, they are observing scientific and mathematical principles in action. And as the parent, you should engage them in meaningful conversation to help them make sense of their observations. Gross goes on to say that, “at strategic moments, during play with water and tools, typically ask intentional questions to extend children’s thinking.” Asking questions that go beyond yes or no answers will make your child’s play as meaningful as it is fun.
Beyond the water table, the allure of food can entice your child to learn math concepts by helping you cook and bake. Using measuring cups introduces fractions. Using the oven launches the notion of temperature. Setting the timer invites a discussion of time. Using cookie cutters introduces shapes, and laying out the shapes on a cookie sheet in a pattern primes their brains for geometry. Engaging your child in discussion throughout the cooking and baking experience will help him connect the math concepts he’s observing to something yummy he gets to eat.
From the Expert:
Using math language in everyday conversation is another simple way to help your child understand ideas that he will be using daily as she enters school and beyond. Kristin Stanberry, at Getreadytoread.org suggests having your child name numbers and shapes and “help him understand concepts like more than/less than, bigger/ smaller, and near/far.” By age 3 or 4, she states that children should “correctly count at least five objects, put written numbers from 1 to 5 in the correct order, and understand concepts of quantity … and size.”
Math — despite what you may have told your parents in the middle of fifth grade — is something we use every day and can actually be fun! Helping your child enjoy math concepts is a gift you give them that will benefit them throughout their entire lives. Look for opportunities to connect real life activities to math concepts and someday your child might just thank you.