When should we start teaching children about math? Before I answer that question, I want you to take three cookies, put them on a plate and give one child one cookie and the other child two cookies. What happened? One child quickly understood the meaning of quantity.
Children develop an understanding of math very early on and we need to recognize that and build upon it. We don’t need to build upon it with worksheets and rote skills but with play. Using children’s natural instincts of curiosity and exploration there is a tremendous amount we can do to get children started in math.
Here are 5 great tips on getting young children engaged in math.
Children have a natural instinct of putting things into an order that they can understand. They will sort, classify, compare quantities, and notice shapes and patterns. Provide children with different sized toys, different types of utensils, different types of coins, different colored socks, it could be anything. Ask the child to sort them by color, shape, size, any type of attribute. Have them explain the reasoning behind their sorting and ask them which attribute has the most, which has the least, any of them equal in number.
Building a rich mathematical vocabulary is important. Putting that vocabulary in a way that students understand what the words mean is essential. Start by putting a plate on the table and have a variety of different colored or different sized cereal or toys. Give the child a series of directions like: Put the blue Fruit Loop in the middle of the plate. Put a pink Fruit Loop under the blue Fruit Loop. Selecta green Fruit Loop and place it beside the pink Fruit Loop. Continue to give directional math terms to the child. Once you have given 6 to 8 directions ask questions about the quantity of items on the plate? How many outside the plate? Which has more?
Understanding numbers is more than just reciting numbers in order. Children need to understand that a number is equal to a quantity. Use glasses or jars and put a number on each jar. Have students collect items in the quantity that is written on the jar. Move the jars around and then have the students put the jars in order from smallest quantity to largest quantity. Have students add the objects of two jars and give the new total. Ask the students to take out some of the items out of the jar and what’s the new amount in the jar. Does that new amount equal the number on the jar.
Students can start to develop real understanding of shapes. Provide the students with straws and allow them to create different shapes. They will start to understand the basics of equal sides. Use Legos or some type of connecting blocks and ask the child to tell you how many blocks make up the design. Have them recreate the shape from memory.
Using beads or colored paper clips students are to follow a set pattern. The number for a specific color can be determined by the roll of a dice. Example: dice rolls 3, three yellow beads are put on a string. Dice rolls2, two green beads are put on a string. Dice rolls 6, six blue beads are put on the string. That pattern of 3 yellow, 3 green and 6 blue are repeated again and again, creating a pattern. Provide the child with another string and beads and ask them to recreate the pattern using one less green, one less yellow and two less blue.
It's important to remember that young children learn at their own pace, and their understanding of mathematical concepts should be fostered through engaging, and interactive experiences. Early childhood educators and parents play a crucial role in creating a supportive environment that encourages mathematical exploration and curiosity in young children.
Looking for more ideas, check out MANGO Math’s Transitioning into Kindergarten math kit.