Math You Can Count On

Hedda SharapanI wonder how you felt about math when you were in grade school? I know there are early childhood professionals who cringe at the very thought of math. I’ll bet that even now, you can remember like I can, how it felt when we were faced with long division problems with a remainder…or subtraction problems like 105-89 when we had to “borrow.”

But it may help us put those feelings aside if we can think about math in a new way – a way that’s developmentally appropriate for young children. Our role in early childhood is to lay the foundation, and that’s much more about our attitude than about arithmetic. I’m referring to fundamental things like helping children be interested in numbers, to know what “counting” means, and to know how and why we count.

Of course math is much more than counting, but that’s a good place to start for now.

Music, Movement, and Math

One NAEYC session that I make sure to attend each year is Mimi Chenfield Brodsky’s. Here’s one of my favorite activities of hers. To the music of “One” from the Broadway show “Chorus Line,” she asks us to start by moving “one” body part – any one body part. Then as the music progresses, she calls out “two” (for us to move two body parts, then three, etc.) What a great way to combine creative thinking, fun, music, movement and numbers. Thank you, Mimi!

How many?

I once saw math used at snack time for three year olds. Attached to a basket of small round crackers was a piece of paper with the numeral 4 and four circles. The children knew that meant they could take 4 crackers (at least on the first go-around). I heard the children counting the crackers out loud, one at a time, as they took them. What a practical way to help them understand and use the number 4!

A Take-Away Game

A teacher recently told me about a “take-away” game she devised for her group of older four year olds. She gave each child 7 poker chips. Then she made a pile of Uno cards from 1-5. As the children picked a card from the pile, they had to “take away” from their own pile of poker chips the number on the card and then say how many they had left. They kept the game going until the last one had none left – zero! That’s subtraction – with four year olds! And the children came to understand what “take away” means because she made it real. Isn’t it great to hear about inventive teachers!

These are just some of the many ways we can show children that numbers “count” for something. By bringing numbers to life for children, and by that I mean bringing numbers to real life experiences, we’ll be helping them lay the foundation for “math thinking” -- one step at a time!

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