We begin to teach our children how to speak in our language – as soon as they are born. And so children learn languages easily and very early in life. But we begin teaching children numbers and math skills only after they start school. By that time anxiety sets in because the child is faced with tests and this sometimes results in the child disliking math forever. In this article – education consultant Dr. Hari Krishna tells us when we can begin teaching children numbers and how we can teach them through daily activities.
About Dr. Hari Krishna,
Dr. Hari Krishna, PhD (IISc) is an Education Consultant and describes himself as a dad, researcher, learner and educator. He believes that new developments in science and technology are often a result of new points of view at things and events and believes in connecting the dots of different ideas. He currently works with GenWise Talent Development Team and is an Atal Innovation Mission Mentor. He also independently develops activities and games that challenge, stretch, and enhance the thinking abilities and understanding of math and science concepts. He develops pedagogical ideas and learning environments and activities that connect cutting edge knowledge with the basic curriculum concepts to create the right context for learning and helps in reinforcing the knowledge of students. He also helps parents develop learning environments and learning habits at home.
How to teach your baby math
Every parent is eager to hear their baby say his/her first word.
We delight in teaching our babies the language we speak – so that we can talk to them.
But do we think of teaching our babies numbers or math? We don’t usually consider it as important. Because we believe that they are too young to understand math.
This belief however is not true.
We must realize that math is a language and just like any other language – babies can naturally learn math too.
Babies learn language naturally by observing and interacting with others, They develop mathematical ability and number sense by interacting with their environment.
Language helps them communicate with the world. Math helps them understand the world.
So a baby would call her/his mother “Mamma”. She/he knows that there is only one Mamma.
Many fundamental mathematical concepts are grasped by babies much before they start going to school. And there is mounting evidence that if parents can help their babies build confidence in their natural mathematical abilities before they begin school they are much less likely to develop anxiety towards math in later years.
How do babies learn math
Babies can be taught math during their daily interaction with adults at home – when adults keep a learning goal in mind while doing daily activities – which we then call guided play. Multiple opportunities arise during daily play and interactions like walking in a park, feeding time, bathing time etc. It is important to grab these opportunities and use them to teach our children because learning is most effective when it happens in natural contexts.
How is math learnt as a language –
Math is learnt by babies in the following 5 steps
Step – 1
Just like babies first learn to associate words with objects – like “This is a ball” Similarly they learn that when we count each object corresponds to a number. This is called one-to-one correspondence.
Step – 2
They then learn that numbers have names and that these names appear in sequence such as one, two, three etc. and that the sequence never changes. This is referred to as stable number word order.
Step – 3
Once they learn the sequence of numbers – they learn that if they are counting objects – the number they stop at is the equal to the number of objects. This is called cardinality.
Step – 4
At first babies are rigid in counting and count only from beginning to end. Gradually they discover that no matter where they begin counting from – as long as they are say the numbers in the correct order – the number of objects does not change. This is called order irrelevance
Step – 5
And finally they realize that even dissimilar objects can be counted as a set or a collection of objects. This is called abstraction.
At what age can children learn numbers
The facilities that the brain requires to learn numbers and math skills start developing at the age of one year. This is in contrast to the ability to learn language which is present from birth. If the child is exposed to literacy and numeracy during these early stages, the information hungry brain quickly absorbs this information and the child develops linguistic fluency and number sense naturally.
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How to teach your baby math
Some suggestions for activities that fit into our daily life interactions and can be played with babies are listed according to the age of the child. Keep the schema of learning (Step 1,2,3,4 and 5) in mind while playing with your child and assessing the progress of the child. Skipping steps may lead to confusion for the baby.
Baby math games
For babies 1-2 years of age – Count every time they see multiple objects like swings at the park, toys or birds etc. These activities help in achieving the first two learning objectives. The baby learns that numbers are used to count things and that there is a word for each number.
Math for toddlers
For babies 2-4 years of age – Help your baby to collect objects like pebbles and arrange them in a line. Then start arranging them in a row of 2 pebbles, followed by a row of 3 pebbles. This helps them to learn cardinality which is described in point number 3 above. Encourage hobbies like objects collection. Children take great pride in amassing large numbers of seemingly useless objects – and this is great way to teach them numbers.
Math activities for pre-schoolers
By the age of 4 babies can learn to use numbers (up to 10) to count a given set of objects. From here the next higher level skills like ‘order irrelevance’ and ‘abstraction’ develop quickly. Some activities that help pre-schoolers develop these abilities are.- using numbers for counting in different contexts. For example – counting when an action is repeated multiple times e.g. How many times can you bounce the ball? How many stairs are we climbing? How many stairs are we going down? Let’s count all the round objects in this room? How many red things can you see in this picture?
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Easy Math activities for pre-schoolers and toddlers
Activities that can build math skills in toddlers and pre-schoolers must be included in the daily playtime activity list as often as possible.
Activities that teach Measurement and Comparison:
Help your child arrange things according to sizes and saying out words like ‘big’, ‘small’, ‘more’, ‘less’ etc.
Allow your child to fill big objects with smaller volumes e.g. A jug can be filled with several small glasses of water.
Play with clay and establish relationships in terms of size, volume, numbers etc. Many small chunks of clay can be made from a larger chunk.
Play games involving dice e.g. Snakes and Ladders etc.
Activities that introduce Spatial talk:
Use words like ‘up/down’ , ‘inside/outside’, ‘left/right’, ‘front/back’ etc
Introduce shapes – which shape goes into which hole
Play with tangrams
Do simple origami.
Activities that involve sorting objects:
Arrange objects into groups. It can be arranging building blocks into groups of same colors etc.
Increasing the complexity of the same tasks as done earlier e.g. Sorting objects with different symmetries and features. E.g. – Let’s put all rectangular blocks in a pile and the square blocks in a separate pile. Followed by – Let’s put all the red rectangular blocks in a pile and the green square blocks in a pile.
Activities that encourage observing patterns:
Highlight patterns in daily life-like morning, evening and night. Talk about how morning breakfast is followed by afternoon lunch – afternoon lunch is followed by a tea time snack which is then followed by dinner at night.. Point out how repeating a certain shape can make a simple pattern and how different shapes can be mixed up to make more complicated patterns. Emphasize this while playing with blocks or painting and drawing etc.
Create artwork with patterns and symmetry. Painting and drawing etc. A set of triangles can be used to make different kinds of patterns.
Play games like Pick the odd one out.
Give the child a set of objects and ask her/him to sort them into two (or more) groups.
Ask open ended questions like “Which one doesn’t belong?”
Once the child finishes the task – continue the discussion to understand the logic applied by the child in completing the task.
A baby’s brain absorbs a lot of information during the early years. Every experience with the surrounding environment and people, leads to new neural connections in the baby’s brain and this shapes the architecture of the developing brain.It is estimated that in the first few years of life, more than 1 million new neural connections are formed every second!
Random experiences create short-lived neural connections which are lost once the neural connection is broken. Repeated experiences create strong neural connections that stay for longer periods.
Early exposure to literacy and numeracy lays a solid and stable foundation for active and healthy brain development.
All of us want our babies to love books and we try to engender the love of books in various ways. With these activities – let us also give our babies the opportunity to love numbers and maths.
When the development of literacy and numeracy happens in parallel the overall learning is reinforced. The brain quickly develops complex connections which lead to higher cognitive abilities in the child. In other words your child becomes more intelligent.
This is a very comprehensive list of how to teach math to children. I agree, most parents concentrate on the language development that they forget Math in itself is a language, too. After reading this, I’ll try to be more intentional in my Math talk with my nephew. Thank you for sharing this. Very helpful! ?
Thank you so much. I am so pleased to know this was useful. I agree. A change in approach to math can make a huge difference to all children. And I like the term “math talk”. If we make math talk – part of our daily routine – we can rid children of math anxiety.
Wonderful article…my child has already started with math talk…I can’t wait to introduce her to the other concepts through play. Thanks for touching on this topic.
So pleased to hear that Madhuparna 🙂 It is so exciting when we follow the child’s lead and just participate in their learning. I am so glad this article has come on time for you. Enjoy !!