Quite often, during our first meeting with parents, providers hear the same question – Do you teach math? By the end of our conversation, it becomes clear that many parents see math as simply a question of counting and addition. Is that the case? What does it mean to teach math to the young children we work with?
Math in Home Daycare
I’d like to take you behind the scenes in the daily work of an early childhood educator and show you how we go about developing the mathematical reasoning of our young students. Math isn’t simply counting and numbers. Long-term success in math requires understanding concepts such as shapes, colours, size, quantity, length, volume, pattern recognition, and spatial reasoning. At Better Than Home daycares, we try to integrate math into all our daily activities and routines. When a child plays with blocks, we direct their attention to the different shapes and colours. We get a competition started; who can bring the greenest blocks or red blocks during clean-up time. If we’re playing with balls, we make a game of sorting them by colour. The best part is seeing the kids work together and correct each other’s mistakes. Through play, we introduce concepts such as big and small, wide and narrow, thin and thick, high and low, long and short, and relationships like between, right, left, above, and below. Every parent and provider can develop a lot of games using these concepts. The secret is to make learning a game and encourage curiosity.
Math And Creativity
To master concepts of size, our educators use art lessons. This is a thick paintbrush; it leaves a wide stroke. Could you please draw a tall tree, and I will draw a short flower? When children build something, the educator can offer to measure the height of the building. We try to arrange an environment that encourages discovery with posters, books, and, most importantly, games and activities. The variety of activities gives kids the opportunity to build and create with different geometric shapes, colours, and materials such as popsicle sticks, straws and connectors, plasticine, and more. For example, the educator lays out big regular shapes made of paper and many cards with pictures of different objects. We offer the children to match the object to its shape. The circle – the coin, the watch. The rectangular – the book, the eraser. The triangle – cheese. We might continue this game when we’re setting the table and find that our plates are circles and our bread is a funny circle.
Math and Numbers
And then come the long-awaited numbers. At the pre-school age, learning how to count is a step in the more critical ability to associate numbers with some objects in a child’s environment. We do this by counting everything we see, from benches at the park to leaves on a branch to pieces of fruit at the lunch table. This is in addition to specific games and activities that providers prepare to associate numbers with quantity. Math always has a part to play during role-playing games. You can mix math with playtime in two ways, by adding learning elements into games children already enjoy (e.g. placing price tags on items kids use to play storekeeper) or building lessons in the form of role-playing (e.g. playing ice cream shop and asking kids to scoop the correct quantity plastic balls into cones with numbers on the side). Lessons work better when you build in fun from the start.
Some more ideas to get you started:
- drawing numbers in the sand with pencils, sticks, and their fingers
- molding numbers out of play-doh
- guessing number cutouts based on their shape with their eyes closed
- finding cutouts in a sandbox or sensory box
Some tips to keep in mind:
- numbers should be large and easy to hold
- numbers with a rough texture invite kids to trace them with their fingers
Early childhood is when kids form their relationships with learning and education. An environment where curiosity leads to discovery and fun sets kids up to grow into lifelong learners. I’ll leave you with this; your child is best equipped when they understand that math isn’t about memorizing the names of shapes and numbers but about critical thinking, discussing your ideas, looking for solutions, making mistakes, supporting your answer, and learning that there are often several ways to solve a problem. Math can and should be a playground for discovery, so I wish you all the best in exploring its possibilities with the children in your care.