(For information on the importance of early math skills, click here.)
Learning to read early is great in many ways, but I highly recommend that parents also do mathematical thinking activities with their babies and toddlers. The Your Baby Can Discover/Your Child Can Discover program is designed to teach math skills. I am a former math teacher who loves math. Math should be fun and interesting. I can’t imagine being a baby in a home where the math skills being taught are parents counting from 1 to 10 over and over, so I developed ideas for teaching math for my own babies. Many of these ideas are included in the Your Child Can Discover DVDs and books.
The main idea is to turn everyday activities into opportunities to learn about math. Use math words such as one, two, three, etc., whole, half, twice as much, one-half, one-third, one-fourth, two-thirds, three-fourths, add, subtract, equals, zero, etc. while eating and playing. It helps to do this while toddlers are moving or picking up objects (for example: “You picked up one-half of the six pieces.”).
Concept of Number
Demonstrate the concept of number properly from the very beginning.
This would be seen as two objects.
Most baby books show a numeral, for example a “2” – along with two objects.
This would be seen as three objects by the infant. It is confusing since the adult is talking about “2″ while the baby is looking at “3.”
Studies show that young infants would perceive this as three objects because they would see two objects plus the numeral “2”. So each time you use one of these books to teach numbers, the baby would see one more than the number you are trying to teach.
This infant learning research is more than 20 years old, yet new baby books are still published showing the numerals near the objects. Parents may not even realize that their babies are perceiving one more than the number they are trying to demonstrate.
Use a multi-sensory and interactive approach and use manipulatives to demonstrate all of these concepts. By multi-sensory, I mean to match in time, as precisely as you can, your baby’s sight, sound, and touch. You can also think of movement as a sense and match counting to your child’s movement.
More specifically, as you count it is important to match the visual and auditory information along with haptic (touching) information. In other words, you try to match as many sensory systems as you can for your baby by saying “1, 2, 3, . . .” as you show distinct objects. [By distinct objects, I mean the objects don’t overlap. For example, you may show two oranges that are not touching each other (or appearing to touch each other) and the background is not similar in color to the objects.]
It’s even better if you can use touch by either using your baby’s finger (only if she/he is in mood to do so) to touch the objects as you count them aloud.
All of the following concepts can be learned using countable food, such as berries or crackers, while toddlers are eating snacks.
Talk about the one-to-one correspondence of objects and/or people. For example, each person has a spoon “Daddy has a spoon. Mommy has a spoon. __[big sister/brother]__ has a spoon and you have a spoon. There are four spoons. How many people are there?”
DO THIS EVERY DAY: Count steps, count crackers, count bounces as you help your baby joyfully bounce, count dots while you or your baby makes dots, count toys or other objects, count seconds, count floors in the elevator, etc. Ask questions where your toddler needs to give a math word as the answer. For example, “How many crackers would you like?” or “How many dots are on the whiteboard? If we add two more dots, how many dots will there be?” [I recommend starting over and counting all of them again, then pausing before counting the last two.]
Talk about adding one more to a small quantity. “There are two pigs. If we add one more pig [while you are actually adding the pig to the other two pigs], then we have three pigs. Two pigs plus one pig equals three pigs. Two plus one is three!”
Talk about adding one or two to small quantities on a consistent basis when you see this happening in your child’s world. Start adding more than two to quantities while you talk about what you are doing.
Sometimes, you will want to write out what you are doing on a whiteboard, paper, or a tablet. For example, you could say “two circles plus one circle makes three circles” while you draw the circles on a whiteboard. Under your drawing you can print 2 + 1 = 3. Say what you are writing as you are doing it.
Talk about taking away one or two from small quantities. This probably happens many times when your child is playing — all we have to do is talk about it while it is happening and match our voices to the precise moment that they take one away. For example, “There are four blocks on the table. Now, you are taking one away so there are only three blocks on the table. [while demonstrating repeat the idea and say] “four minus one is three.” Note: Frequently interchange the word “is” with the word “equals” in order to help your child learn more math words.
Sometimes, you will want to draw images and erase them to demonstrate the concept while you are talking about it. Also, please write out using math symbols under some of your drawings as you make them. For example, write out 4 – 1 = 3 as you draw images to illustrate that.
Think of multiplying as “groups of.” Show the babies groups of the same type of objects and talk about them. For example, put three groups of two animals on the floor and say “I see three groups of two animals. One, two – three, four – five, six. Three groups of two makes six.”
Do this as you play with blocks or other toys. Math is an inherently fun topic from my perspective and it is important to have fun while you are playing and teaching your baby math or other topics. Unfortunately, some parents tell their children that math is not fun.
I taught my daughters many math skills while cutting their food during mealtimes. We often ate round food and I would carefully slice it into halves, thirds, fourths, eighths, etc. I would describe what I was doing as I did it.
For example, “I am cutting your food into two halves. Now, I am cutting this half in half. Each one of these is a fourth.” I would often ask my children how they wanted me to divide their food. I remember Keelin saying “8 eighths” or “16 sixteenths.” I also remember her getting excited and saying that she wanted “one half, one fourth, one eighth, and two sixteenths” – each of these adds up to 1. I would also say comments such as, “Daddy is trying to cut this exactly in half, but it is not exact. This side is about the same size as that side, but they are not exactly the same size.” One mistake many parents make is not using precise language. You are teaching your babies and toddlers logic and math skills, so try to be accurate.
Try to divide toys, food, physical movements, time, money, etc. in halves, thirds, fourths, etc. Place six toys on the table and divide them into two groups of three and say what you are doing. Encourage your child to imitate you and do the same. Talk about what you are doing using math words.
The Concept of Zero
Try to point out zero as it naturally occurs in your child’s environment. For example, say “You have zero crackers in your hand. Now, you have one cracker in your hand.” Note: Place the cracker in your child’s hand at the moment you say “one.”] Match your words with what is happening and use math words frequently and appropriately.
I hope parents will try many of these activities as you are playing and interacting with your babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. Good luck and have fun!
Dr. Bob Titzer