In our last blog entry, "Learning Math Then and Now," we looked at the increased importance of math in the 21st-century world. We stressed that the basic skills our children need to become comfortable in tackling math problems can be reinforced when children are regularly engaged in mathematical experiences in the course of everyday life.
Lowell’s head of school Debbie Gibbs is also a middle school math teacher. She believes that there are endless opportunities for parents to reinforce young children’s burgeoning interest in math some of which she shares below. And who knows? You may find yourself enjoying math even more in the process!
Here are some suggestions to try with your child:
1. Develop the habit of counting-as-a play. For example, climb a staircase with your child and count the steps; this can be done even with toddlers. This reinforces one-to-one correspondence and becomes a fun routine.
2. Always keep games fun—start with easier games and progress when your child seems ready. Virtually every popular board game requires some level of pattern-identification or basic problem solving. Play age-appropriate games, but it’s okay to challenge your child by occasionally introducing a game slightly above the recommended age level. If your child needs help with his or her turn, help them. Suggests Debbie, “Don’t make their turn a big chore. If your child needs help, help them.”
3. When you play board games with dice, model math thinking and skills by talking out loud and explaining the reasons behind your move. When you roll dice, count aloud each dot on each dice before taking your turn. Once they are comfortable with that habit, change the way you count the dots to arrive at the same sum. For instance, a roll of nine might lead you to touch the five dots on the first dice and simply say “five”, then count the separate dots on the second dice, saying “six, seven, eight, nine.” In time, you might say “five plus four equals nine.” If your roll requires moving spaces on the game board, count and touch each space as you move. Kids pick up math sense simply by playing games with you. They absorb what you are modeling.
4. Try Dominoes. It's an excellent game for learning to count and understand multiples of five.
5. Tell stories that include word problems. Let your children work out the solutions. Gradually add complexity to your stories. For example, “Once upon a time there was a princess who loved candy. She was given 24 lollipops to share with her four friends. How many would each friend get?”“What if the princess wanted to keep half and share the rest?” Next, suggest that your child make up stories for you to solve. Your child will catch on and gradually build more complex stories that involve different mathematical thinking. This kind of play lays the groundwork for algebra without your child ever realizing it.
6. Cook with your child.This is an engaging opportunity to work on fractions, measuring, and proportions. And, there's usually a delicious pay-off at the end!
7. Encourage sorting, graphing, and analyzing whatever your child collects. If your child collects baseball cards or some other kind of trading cards, encourage them to sort the cards by laying out a rudimentary bar graph on the floor. Then model mathematical thinking. "Wow, I see you have two more Dodgers cards than Nationals cards. I wonder how many Dodgers and Nationals cards you have altogether?” This can also be played with blocks, buttons, toy jewels and stones… whatever your child collects. “When children explore the quantities of their treasures and take pleasure in examining their collections, they are using math to have fun,” Debbie points out.
Debbie also offers this key to success: “Praise your children’s efforts, not their talent in math. This encourages a ‘growth mindset,’ helping children recognize that growth takes time and effort. As a result, they will be more inclined to continue working when faced with harder problems, rather than give up.”
The benefits, she explains, of math-based play go far beyond developing math skills. “Turning off electronics, sitting side by side, spending time focused on a project together, all create a tremendous sense of comfort. You’d be surprised by the number of important conversations that surface when parents and children spend relaxed time stretching their mathematical creativity through play.”
Looking for more ideas? Check out "Ways to Encourage Your Child's Mathematical Thinking."