Tuesday, February 21, 2012

How to Start Developing Math Skills in Your Toddlers and Preschoolers

How to Start Developing Math Skills in Your Toddlers and Little Kids
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Did you know that only 25% of the human brain is developed at birth?  A large part of the remaining 75% of the development comes before age five, through interesting stimulation and activities.  

So I know we're supposed to make sure that our kids get plenty of opportunities to learn, but I'm also a realist.  I still need to pay the bills, make dinner and do the laundry so for a long time I wondered how in the world I was supposed to find the time to "teach" my young children.  Plus, I don't want life to be a grind.  I want to enjoy my kids and watch them play and have fun in life but I still have to get stuff done!

Since then, I have spent countless hours researching and experimenting with activities and crafts for preschoolers.  It turns out that research shows that kids who are challenged behave better...who knew!  Plus, I have found that once I introduced playful learning activities, my kids became more independent, which gave me more free time and made us a more balanced family.  

I have teamed up with fellow blogger, former Kindergarten teacher, and author, Susan Case. We are co-writing a book about activities to do with children to keep them busy at home so Moms can still get chores done AND promote healthy learning through play. As we were collaborating on writing, I learned a lot from Susan. One idea I got from her was related to patterning. Here is an excerpt from our book which will be available this spring (this is one of Susan's parts).

"When children sort and pattern, they actually learn mathematical skills. Children begin sorting things at an early age. In fact, according to some researchers, young children spend over 40 percent of their time sorting objects into sets, counting objects, or exploring patterns and forms. You don’t have to buy expensive computer games or use explicit mathematical instruction for your child to learn math. They are doing it naturally. Take advantage of teachable moments and extend their learning. Provide materials for them to feel, manipulate, sort, and count. First, they will be interested in the texture or form or movement of an object. Then they may line up a row of cars, eventually putting an object beside each car (matching and one-on-one correspondence). They are learning about more and less; smaller and bigger; and conservation. You don’t need to buy anything special. Play math games with whatever interests your child: dolls, action figures, marbles, cotton balls, or swings at the park. Count trees as you take a walk. A parent’s role is to provide opportunities for growth but also to let children expand their learning in their own way. Listen and watch. You will be amazed at how much time children spend enjoying math discovery—which is helping them acquire reading and science skills during the process.”

So, one day I was looking for a rainy day activity.  We set up a sensory bowl with lots of colorful objects. We used pom poms, rocks, colorful Popsicle sticks, and several other items we had around the house. The kids were immediately intrigued.

Then I set up bowls for sorting the pom poms into different colors. I put several of the same color into a bowl to show them what to do. First they stayed busy just feeling and moving the pom poms. Then they began to sort them by color into the bowls.

We did that for a few minutes, and once they lost interest in sorting I let them take the lead.  That's the thing about these types of games.  I didn't push sorting because I didn't want to make it something they didn't enjoy.  Instead, I sat back and let them create what they wanted.  Pretty soon it turned into a pouring game, which is also great for fine motor:

Then, by the end, they both started making "soup".  They asked me to get out spoons and they spent about 30 minutes soup, baking the soup in the pretend kitchen, etc.  

For me, this was a huge success.  First, it kept them busy for over an hour, which is kind of the whole point, right?  Second, they practiced their sorting and patterning, then they practiced fine motor, and finished up with some good imaginary play.  After all, playing is a child's work. 

If you enjoyed this post, you will love our book!  Susan and I teamed up and released The Happy Mommy Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide on Keeping Your Toddlers and Preschoolers Busy, Out of Trouble, and Motivated to Learn in July, 2012.  If you have ever tried to cook dinner while your kid clings to your leg and cries, this is the book for you!  As we did above, we give you a Mom's point of view and a teacher's point of view, so that you can do activities that not only keep the kids busy, but also keep them motivated to learn and develop their natural curiosity.  Kids behave better when they are given challenging projects to work on, which will in turn give you more free time to do the things you really need to do, like washing dishes, paying bills, and relaxing so that you can be a better Mom!

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  1. What a fun activity. I think my 3 1/2 year old niece would love it (and our babies too when they get a little older). The excerpt from your upcoming book was great.

  2. What a fun idea!! My boys love doing stuff like this!

  3. Oh, I love it! Any activity that keeps the kid busy as I do my thing is a winner! And, the fact that she learns math skills is a welcome bonus.

    Yup, a kid is seriously at work when playing. And they do learn through play, without even knowing it. I love the fact that we don't need to spend much on developmental toys just to develop kids' math skills.

  4. Fascinating post - thank you. And that pom pom soup looks delicious!

  5. definitely a fun idea! i think all kids would like to do this!

  6. What a great activity! I am going to pin it to my Math Play Pinterest board.

    I notice my daughter naturally sorts items too. A few weeks ago, we were pruning our shrubs, and we had a huge pile of sticks. She went through the stick pile and started organizing the sticks by size. It was amazing to see her learning and playing at the same time, and she did this all on her own. I find my daughter is so engaged when she comes up with ideas on her own.

    How exciting that you are working on a book with Susan Case!!!

  7. If it kept them busy for an hour, I think I gotta try it. :-)

  8. My little guy loves making pretend soup with the gravel in our driveway and sorting is a great idea. My little one is a little OCD, so I think he would LOVE IT!!

  9. Clever idea -- and congrats on the upcoming book!

  10. Love this activity. So much fun and I love that the starting making pretend soup :) Thanks so much for sharing this with us at Sharing Saturday. hope to see you again next week.


  11. Hello! Just found you via the Kids Co-op linky and I love this maths play idea. I'm going to include it in my Weekly Play Planner which will be on my blog on Sunday - hope that's OK with you :)