It is lunchtime and a young mother asks her preschool child, “Do you want a whole sandwich, two halves, or four quarters?”
The mom is doing more than tricking her child into choosing a whole sandwich. She is exposing her young child to math in the real world.
There are fun and interesting ways to make math a part of your child’s life, long before it becomes a subject in school. Pre-kindergarten children can and should be accumulating important math foundations in positive ways. The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics recommends that the focus of math for this age group be on number and operations, beginning geometry, and measurement, and should include some exposure to algebra and data analysis.
Children love to count everything. Counting is an important concept in number and operations. As they count how many stairs they jump down on the way to school, they not only learn to say numbers in order (which is known as rote counting), but also that each hop down is associated with a number word, starting at one.
This is the beginning of rational counting. Counting and keeping track of how many pieces of mail come each day not only provides rational counting opportunities, but also the possibility of data analysis by making a graph and then making comparisons such as “We have more mail today than we had Monday.”
Parents do a wonderful job of teaching young children the names of shapes — an appropriate early childhood geometry task. Once shape names are learned, it can be great fun to find those shapes on a walk through the neighborhood. The neighbor’s front door is a rectangle, and sections of sidewalk are squares. A triangle in a design is rotated so the point is down, but children quickly learn it is still a triangle no matter how it is revolved.
Another important geometry concept, positioning in space, can be reinforced on the playground when parents help toddlers locate themselves in reference to someone or something else. “Janie is on top of the slide.” “Juan is behind Jim on the bridge.”
The child’s own body is a wonderful tool in teaching the concept of measurement. Parents who have their children figure out how many steps the driveway is long and compare that to how many steps it takes to cross the front porch are helping them begin to understand measurement.
Don’t forget that one of the best gifts you can give children is an attitude that math is both something that they can do and something that is fun to do. Use the word “math” often as you do these and other activities with your children and help them know that they are doing math and they are becoming mathematicians.
Carole Haun is on the faculty of the Weber State University department of child and family studies. The opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of WSU.