I’ll be the first to admit it: I hated math as a kid. I was a book-worm–no surprise there. I even abandoned my childhood dreams of growing up to become a pediatrician or architect for fear that my math skills weren’t up to par.
When I came across the idea that early numeracy skills were the #1 predictor of kids’ later academic achievement in school–even more so than literacy (School Readiness and Later Achievement. J of Dev Psychology. Duncan, et a 2007), I had to revisit my “math sucks” attitude.
During my recent enrollment at “Parent University,” (Naperville 203), I sat, sort of nervously in a workshop on early numeracy. I was totally out of my comfort zone and nervous, because well, I hate math and I had the feeling they might present me with some sort of test on “mommy math.” They didn’t of course, but Cynthia Navin O’Meara (Early Childhood School Psychologist) and Theresa LaLoggia (Madison Junior HS Psychologist) did give me some skills and ideas of what we can do to help our little people develop math skills that will last a lifetime–think: time and space management, problem-solving and managing money.
First of all, don’t stop reading to your kids and focus on counting all the time. Reading is still very important. And you just might be able to sneak in some math practice there, too. O.k., book-worm parents–here’s your chance to combine the two subjects!
- Ask your child to predict what will happen first, second, last?
- Some concepts work on geometry and spatial awareness. Where is ____? Oh look–he’s on top of the tree! Seek and find type books focus on the same concepts.
- Ask about measurement. My daughter recently read Jan Brett’s “The Mitten” at school. Read it at home and ask your child questions like, “Can they all fit in the mitten….what will happen when the mitten gets too full?” Which is bigger, smaller? Another good book to look at is “Richard Scarry’s Big Book of First Words.”
- Find patterns in the book. This can apply not just to pictures in the book, but patterns in the text. Have your child complete the sentence in those repetitive books.
- Data analysis and categorization can come from books as well. Have your child organize books by size, shape, color or theme.
While books are a wonderful resource, there are plenty of other opportunities to expose your child to math in your everyday life. Need some more ideas?
- Blocks. Ask lots of questions when your child is engaged with block play. Starters: How many blocks are in your tower? What happens if we add one more? Take one away? What can you do with this block? Can we make a pattern with your Legos? Let’s do a blue one here, a green one there, a blue one…
- Role Play. “Oh I see your skirt matches your hat. What else matches?” How many dress up shoes do you have? Let’s make a pile of shoes based on color or function.
- Arts and Crafts. Measure out play-doh together. My snake is longer than yours. Can you make yours as long as mine? Talk about shapes and patterns in your art. Analyze how your art project is alike or different from your childs–but let your child make the distinctions.
- Cooking. Measurement and fractions are all part of cooking. What aspects of a cooking project can you let your child explore?
- Science and Outdoors. Compare and contrast things you observe in nature. This tree is bigger than that tree. Let’s look for and collect medium-sized rocks. Does this leaf and this rock belong together?
- Sand and Water Play. Measuring, pouring and dumping all have to do with the study of volume–which holds more? Less? It’s also a great for tactile, whole-body style of learning.
- Music and Movement. Talk about the beat (pattern) of a favorite song. We used to play a little game where I would sing out directives, “Touch the sky way up high…touch your toes way down low.” You can also incorporate Follow-the-leader and “Simon Says” games to get kiddos thinking about patterns, movement and math.
One of our favorite activities around our house is to pull out the “Build and Construct Box” of toys. You can make one, too. Get a decent-sized plastic tub with lid and store all of your child’s blocks, Lincoln Logs, marbles, Magnetix, Legos, and whatever else you have in your playroom that qualifies as “building materials.” I have tossed in things like rulers, Aqua Doodle mats (sort of reminds me of a large blueprint), and graph paper. Look around for number flashcards, books about numbers, placemats on counting and telling time–stick them in the box. We also have pretend kid-sized tools in there, too. Spend about a week with the box and I promise you, your kids will begin to develop an appreciation for all things related to building and constructing.
For those of you who are crafty, don’t despair. My girls and I decorated yellow Foamy construction hats with squares and rectangles that we made into buildings. Check out your local craft store for other ideas that you can work into the build and construct theme. Think: stickers, Foamies, and principles of architecture and design. Math really is everywhere.
I used to get made fun of when I would count steps with my girls. “You’re teaching them to become obsessive-compulsive,” they would tease me. But really, I was exposing them to math at an early age, right?
While I may be a girl who’s not wild about math, I do know that it’s important and I am going to do my best to make sure my girls don’t develop a math phobia. Even if it means leaving my comfort zone.