Monday, January 25, 2016

How Do You Teach Math to a Preschooler?

     There is a growing sense of urgency in America that our children become math literate at younger ages, and that students of all ages understand math concepts better and that is coming clear down to kindergarten.
     The good news is that it is easy to help young children be ready for the world of math.

     So how do you go about teaching math to a preschooler?  The same way you help children learn colors and letters and anything else – about two minutes of fun at a time.   You don’t need flash cards, workbooks, or instructions manuals.  Just help children look at the world around them with a math perspective.

     Half of the battle in learning math is understanding the vocabulary.  If you have a name for an object or concept you can learn what to do with it.  You might wonder about kindergarten children talking about the vertex on a triangle, we called them corners in the old days, but it’s only a big deal if you don’t know the word. 

     I’ve seen preschoolers who can differentiate 11 different kinds of dinosaurs, 23 different zoo animals, and seven different superheroes with their corresponding super powers.  It’s not a stretch at all to assume they can learn a sphere is like a circle, but a circle is flat and a sphere is solid. Lots of things are spheres, soccer balls and basketballs.  Lots of things are circles, Ritz crackers and polka dots.  Our kids can do this, no problem.

     It helps to start young, make it a game, and do it two minutes at a time several times a day.

     Two minute math lessons for toddlers might be:
·      Counting fingers and toes with toddlers as you tickle them.
·      Counting the stairs as you go up and down
·      Noticing when things are bigger and smaller
·      Talking about things that are alike and different

     Two minute math lessons for three year olds might be:
·      Making a pattern with the blocks, red block, blue block, red block, blue block
·      Noticing shapes and playing “Let’s find a circle”
·      Counting the socks in the drawer, blocks in the tower you build, or people in the photo
·      Sorting things that match and creating categories,  spoons in one pile, forks in another; blue cups on this side, yellow cups on that side

     Two minute math lessons for four year olds might include:
·      Noticing numbers in the grocery store, on your mail box, on street signs. Play an “I Spy” game to find a 6 or 3.  Show them bigger numbers and say, “the sign says 65 miles an hour,” or “Look, it costs 89 cents.”
·      Using the words sphere, cube and cone when you play with a ball, a block or get ice cream.
·      Play “More or Less” games:  Are there more red candies or green candies in the bowl?  Are there more tulips or daffodils in your back yard?
·      Play count and see how high you can count before you get your shoes on, or I get the floor swept.
·      Practice writing numbers.
·      Use simple oral math “games” to add and subtract numbers while waiting in the car, or in line at the store, like, “If I have two fish and you have four fish, who has more?  What if I give you one of my fish, then how many will you have?”  Encourage them to use their fingers.
·      Learning a home phone number, both to recite and write it.  (This will take
lots of two minute sessions for most children.  Just keep at it.)

     You don’t have to be a math whiz to help your child be one. Children like playing these little games, in part because it means they have your full attention, and in part because learning is fun.  Playfulness is crucial.  Parents who are gentle cheerleaders are important.  But it mostly takes mindfulness: remembering to do it, and being aware of how valuable it is to your child.  School readiness is more than ABCs.  Math matters and we can do it.
© Diane L. Mangum