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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Creating A Math-Rich Home

How come there is SO much research on reading and language in early childhood, but such a terrible dearth of research on math in early childhood? Every book I read on education, parenting, and child development says that the single most important thing a parent can do for a young child is to read to the child on a daily basis and immerse the child in a language-rich environment.

But what about Math? Interestingly, when I hang out and chat with Indian and Chinese moms in Singapore, they spend a lot more time thinking about Math than reading. "What do you do for Math" is a question I encounter all the time because I live in Asia and hang out with South-Asian and East-Asian mothers. And these mathematically oriented moms spend a lot of time making sure that their kids build strong math foundations, and not surprisingly, their children excel in math and science.

So what should a mom do about Math in the early years?  Here are some ideas on how to create a mathematical home. These ideas are drawn both from conversations with "mathematical moms" and from two specific books: What's Math Got To Do With It, by Jo Boaler, a Stanford University professor, and Pink Brain, Blue Brain, by Lise Eliot, a neuroscientist who examines the relationship between visual-spatial skills and math/science achievement.

Engage your child in activities and games that will develop number sense, visual-spatial abilities, and problem solving abilities. Research shows that all these three strands are tightly correlated with math success in school and beyond. While most people already know how directly correlated number sense and problem solving abilities are with math achievement, they may not know that most students who excel in higher level math and science also need good visual-spatial abilities, or the ability to understand shapes and to manipulate objects in their minds. These skills are (quite obviously) necessary to succeed in more abstract math and physics.


For Number Sense:

Board games such as Snakes 'n' Ladders, Yahtzee, and Monopoly
Dice (invent and play games with dice)
Cards (all kinds of card games; even just "add the cards")
An Abacus (must have manipulative)
A Measuring Tape (measure your furniture; measure the kids -- how tall are they?)
Create a huge number line and put it on the wall of your kids' room.
When you're in the car, play number games (can you guess the number? how quickly can you add these numbers up? Let's do Mental math!)

Integrate Math conversations into all your daily activities with children --
 "grocery store math" (Find me five tomatoes; now add two more tomatoes, how many do we have?)
"cooking math"(Can you add 3 eggs;  Let's measure one cup of milk)
"elevator math" (riding an elevator is like riding a number line -- get kids to add and subtract in the elevator, get them to recognize numbers, point out that you're riding up and down the number line.)

For Problem Solving:
Games such as Connect Four
CHESS (excellent game for strategizing)
Give kids interesting word problems and math puzzles to solve (Singapore Math is a great resource for this.)
Jigsaw puzzles
Identify and extend patterns of all kinds (numbers, shapes, words etc.)

For Visual-Spatial Skills:
Blocks, Legos, K'Nex and any other building activity that involves manipulating objects.
Tangrams (disembedding shapes and problem solving)
Tetris (great online game for understanding how shapes fit together)
Blik Blok
Jigsaw puzzles
Measurement Activities
Geometry Activities (drawing shapes, extending patterns, understanding shapes)
Noticing patterns in the world around you -- in nature, in architecture, in art etc.
Programming for children: Scratch, Logo, Lego-programming/robotics

Just as creating a language-rich environment primes kids for success in school by developing verbal skills and thinking skills, creating a mathematically-rich environment in the home also primes kids for educational success by developing their ability to solve problems and their understanding of numbers and shapes. Integrating mathematical conversations, activities, and puzzles into everyday family life can help kids begin to understand the importance and beauty of Math.

For a more detailed discussion of math, see one of my older posts: Math-rich homes.

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