I recently attended a workshop that focuses on integrating math into literacy and play. It was sponsored by Vermont’s Early Learning Initiative, and training was based on the new common core state standards and Mother Goose Cares About Math and Science, a VT Center for the Book program. see more about mother goose here.
1) math doesn’t always mean numbers and 1,2,3’s.
It can be shapes, patterns, and sounds, or even the events in a story. When a child hugs a big tree, stretching their arms around it, they’re doing math. Ask them how many more friends can hug the tree. Using a non-standard unit of measurement is still math. We can also nurture pattern observation by providing small items for sorting such as pompoms or wooden beads. Noticing various attributes is math. Offer an egg carton for sorting, ask the child to tell you about the shapes, colors, or other properties they notice.
2) kids love to be mathematicians and scientists.
Children respond to being trusted, valued, and heard. What better way to support this value than to gather predictions from the children and conduct experiments, and then chart the results. “How many shoes do we need to line up to get to the door?” Grab a large piece of paper and make a T chart. “How many of us have brown eyes? Blue?…” Create a pie chart illustrating the eye colors of the whole group. Charting is also a great opportunity to use words like more, less, near, far.
3) books and pictures don’t have to be about shapes or counting to provide opportunities for math learning.
A book about jungle animals can be just as valuable as a book on 1,2,3’s. Look for patterns or rhythms in the words (Dr. Seuss books are great for this). Clap your hands to the beat of the rhymes. Help the children identify the recurring characters on each page. They’ll learn to recognize shapes if they have practice, even if they’re not geometric shapes.
4) incorporate materials and routines that offer opportunity for math.
The children in my care set the table everyday. They count how many friends are here and identify the dishes we need. They practice 1 to 1 correspondence when placing one plate at each seat. We also count heads on our way out the door and on the way in. Offering materials such as dominoes, dice, small items for sorting, and measuring tools are helpful as well. As children learn what three dots look like, counting will become easier. Seeing standard tools of measurement will also prepare the children for their eventual use.
Most of these suggestions are geared toward preschool age children, but keep in mind that they are easily adapted to support many ages. And remember, just because they’re little, doesn’t mean that toddlers aren’t capable of learning math concepts. I have seen children as young as 18 months recognizing simple visual patterns, like seeing a dog on every page of a book.