Category Archives: Learning

Helping Children Learn About Colors

Why is learning color recognition at a young age so important? Color is an easily noticeable part of the world around us and is, consequently, one of the ways children can initially classify what they see. Learning the similarities and differences between colors is a basic skill—one that serves as a building block for a child’s future development.

 

Dr. Judith Myers-Walls, project director of Parent-Provider Relationships at Purdue University, says that recognizing different colors is highly important. People, she explains, interact with color in roughly two different ways: we find colors both useful and expressive. Colors are useful in that they can describe an object (e.g. ask someone to hand you the blue bowl during dinner), convey specific information (a red light means “stop”), or help indicate and solve problems (if the front lawn is brown instead of green, then perhaps it should be watered).

 

Colors can also be expressive and convey emotional and artistic meaning (yellow is often associated with happiness and red with energy and strength, for example). Learning both the colors themselves and their many implementations is key for young children as they continue to discover more about the world around them.

 

As easy as this task may be for adults, most children struggle to learn the different names of colors. A Scientific American article discusses a study conducted at Stanford University that asked two-year-olds to name a color and pick it out of a lineup. Surprisingly, “most failed the test outright.” In fact, the study notes, children as old as six can continue to incorrectly name different colors.

 

Why is this so? The article continues by explaining that different categories of colors are not universal. Different languages “vary both in the number of basic color distinctions they make . . . and in the ways they draw those distinctions on the spectrum.” For example, English has eleven basic color words (red, blue, yellow, green, black, white, pink, brown, gray, brown, purple, and orange), while the Pirahã language has only two terms for describing color (light and dark). This complication of learning colors through the lens of one’s own language, combined with the fact that colors themselves are overwhelmingly present at all times, can make learning the names of colors surprisingly difficult for most children.

 

Parents and teachers need not despair, however: a variety of resources on the topic are readily available. The Indiana Institute on Disability and Community acknowledges the difficulty in learning colors and lists several tips for parents who want to help teach their children. Teaching color words and color recognition at the same time—especially by using primary and secondary colors—helps children identify colors more quickly. While reading a story, a parent can point out an object in a specific color and then ask the child to find another object in the same color. In Eating the Rainbow, for instance, you can show your child the green pear and then ask her to find the green broccoli on the same page.

star-bright-books-eating-the-rainbow-cover-new

Another helpful tip from the Indiana Institute is helping children understand how color differs from shape. The Institute notes, “Children tend to notice the shapes and uses of objects before they notice color,” so parents are encouraged to “use identical objects that are different colors” to help children learn.

 

Finally, playing games and involving children in different activities is always an enjoyable way to help with learning colors: sort laundry into different colors, draw pictures with colorful crayons, and play “I Spy” with your child! You can ask your child to find the purple sock while reading Barnaby Bennett or the blue parakeets in Brian Wildsmith’s Animal Colors.

 

Learning about colors doesn’t need to be a discouraging process. Children can have fun exploring the colors in the world around them!

Celebrate National Reading Month at Home with Your Toddler

“You can find magic wherever you look. Sit back and relax, all you need is a book” —Dr. Seuss

 

The birthday of one of the most celebrated children’s authors of all time, Dr. Seuss, just passed, and it falls in March—National Reading Month. In 1998, the National Education Association of America established National Reading Month to honor author, cartoonist, and animator Dr. Seuss, and to encourage reading and literacy habits in children. The month-long celebration is intended to help children discover the pleasure in reading, while aiding their language development skills at the same time.

 

While schools all across America celebrate National Reading Month for children in kindergarten and above, parents can celebrate with their toddlers at home, too! Here are some roles that you can play to celebrate National Reading Month with your young ones in order to jumpstart language development and an interest in reading.

 

Let’s start with an activity as simple as singing the alphabet song, which can greatly improve a toddler’s literacy and cognitive skills. Singing out loud to children helps create a phonological awareness in them, which is the first step in early language development. They will gradually be able to pick up on the sounds of the alphabet and learn to associate each sound with a word. The best way to do this is to recite every letter using an alphabet chart or alphabet flash cards, while pointing to a related object (e.g. A for apple, B for ball, etc.). Animal ABC by Juan de Lascurain and ABC by Brian Wildsmith are two great titles that can help catch the attention of toddlers with eye-catching designs and colors.

 

Rhyming and poetry books also serve the same purpose as alphabet books. Children will learn to pick up on rhythmic patterns and vibrations in sounds, making it easier for them to alter their tones accordingly. The added benefit is that reading rhymes out loud coupled with some fun activities will help toddlers recognize pauses and patterns in speech. You can play a picture-card game with your child and have them come up with rhyming words for every card they draw (e.g. if they draw a card with a picture of a ball, encourage them to come up with rhyming words like “tall,” “wall,” and “call”). Some Star Bright titles that can assist in this aspect of learning are Robert Louis Stevenson’s A Child’s Garden of Verses and Edith Baer’s Words are like Faces.

 

Wordless picture books may contain little or no text, but can be vastly important. They allow children to interpret the stories from only pictures, details, and character expressions. Kids learn the art of prediction and improve their observational skills and critical thinking. One among the many fun activities to do with wordless books is to ask your toddler to retell the story in their own words, and watch how the story unfolds in their imaginative eyes. Children pull words from their memory in order to recite their version—and honestly, they have so much fun doing it that we can’t help but smile. A Circle of Friends by Giora Carmi, with beautiful illustrations and an equally beautiful storyline, is a perfect fit for this activity.

 

Puzzle books and activity books go a long way in helping children exercise their brains and improve their imaginations. Although toddlers may be too young to solve the puzzles, it will greatly improve their spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination. An in-home activity that you can try with your toddler is to bring together the different shapes (square, circle, triangle) in their favorite puzzle book and help match the shapes and shape colors to patterns in the book. Over time, they will develop a knack for recognizing patterns and shapes, and associate colors with them (e.g. an apple is a circle and is red).

 

Make this year’s National Reading Month a special one for your toddler by illustrating the impact reading can have on them and indulge in some fun, quality time with your tiny tot.

Support Your Child’s Math Development, Part 2: Preschool and Up

In last week’s math blog post we talked with Audrey Martínez-Gudapakkam, an associate researcher at TERC who evaluates K-12 STEM education programs and develops programs for Spanish-speaking families, about specific ways parents and caregivers can introduce math to their babies and toddlers.

 

In this post, Audrey and Marlene Kliman, a senior scientist at TERC, explain how adults can support a child’s learning as they enter school and begin interacting with math in the classroom. Marlene notes that as children begin working with addition, subtraction, and other math concepts, they develop a relationship with math that can follow them throughout their lives. Fostering a positive attitude toward math is one of the most important things an adult can do for their child.

 

Here are some suggestions for two age groups.

 

Children Ages 3-5

As children get older, they make connections to math concepts by talking through what they are doing and why. Asking children open-ended questions, Marlene says, helps them develop a deeper understanding of how math works instead of a right or wrong answer.

 

Audrey offers these ideas for engaging children in activities full of math learning.

 

Size and Measurement

“When we sort clean laundry, we talk together about clothing sizes for each person and how big belongs to Daddy, medium-sized is for Mommy, and small is for you,” Audrey says. “As we pick up clothing, I ask my daughter, ‘How do you know it is small, medium, or large? Check to see if it fits you.’ She can measure it by putting it on top of herself and measuring it against her body.”

Sorting laundry is a great time to talk with children about sizes. (from Rosa’s Very Big Job)

Numbers and Counting

While preparing food, Audrey talks about numbers with her daughter. She asks, “How do you know how many tomatoes we have?” Then she says, “Okay, let’s count them together.” As Audrey explains, “Counting physical objects helps them understand the concept of the number of elements in a set or group.”

 

Sequencing

While getting dressed or doing other routine activities, Audrey asks her daughter, “What do you need to put on first, second, third . . . last?” Or, “What do you do first, second, third . . . last?” Audrey says, “This awareness of steps in a process helps her learn about sequences, which in school can help her with computer programming.”

 

Children Ages 6 and Older

When children enter first grade, adults can help their children with homework by asking open-ended questions that prompt them to explain their thought process. Audrey says, “Whenever my daughter is doing her math homework, even if she gets the right answer, I always ask her, ‘How do you know? Show me how you know.’ I try to avoid telling her she’s wrong when she makes a mistake (which is hard because sometimes just by the tone of my voice she guesses it!). Instead, I try to help her notice the mistake herself as she checks her work, or we check the work using a different strategy. That way she can see where she made a mistake. Sometimes I might have her draw it or demonstrate it for me.”

 

Some other ideas Audrey suggests are:

  • Play a Game: “I tell my daughter, ‘I have a total of ten stones.’ I put three on the table and then have her explain how she knows how many stones are hiding in my hand.”
  • Count in Groups: “When we do counting, I ask her to count in groups of two, five, ten, et cetera. I tell her, ‘You know that your hand has five fingers, so you don’t have to count each one since you already know they add up to five.’”
  • Teach about Fractions: “At school my daughter is learning about quarters and halves so when I give her a cookie I ask her how she knows if a half or a quarter is more. Then I show her what each looks like by cutting the cookie.”

Several small parts can add up to one HUGE whole. (from Small Medium Large)

How do these strategies benefit kids for math learning and beyond? Audrey explains that by learning through practice, children discover they can continue to improve their math skills. When adults praise kids for not giving up even if they feel frustrated, it helps them develop social emotional skills for managing strong feelings. And children who can entertain themselves for long periods of time with building or creative projects develop strong reasoning and concentration skills.

 

Most importantly, instilling a positive attitude toward math helps children enjoy learning about it throughout their lives. “At one point,” Audrey says, “my daughter said, ‘I love math, and when I grow up I want to be a mathematician!’” This is the kind of enthusiasm we all want for our kids!

Support Your Baby’s and Toddler’s Math Development

Children are naturally curious and have an inborn ability to make connections. From birth they begin learning the concepts of language and math. While it may be easier to observe a child learning language as they begin to speak and put sentences together, at the same time they are also discovering the ideas of pattern, shape, size, and spatial relationships like up, down, and across—all of which are the foundations of math.

 

Parents and caregivers can help their children develop a strong base on which to build their math understanding by engaging them in age-appropriate activities. As Audrey Martínez-Gudapakkam, an associate researcher at TERC who evaluates K-12 STEM education programs and develops programs to engage Spanish-speaking families in STEM learning, explains: “To help children be ready to learn in kindergarten and beyond, they need repeated concrete experiences in daily life to develop math vocabulary and the experiences that will support their understanding.”

 

These activities do not need to be structured learning times and do not require expensive materials. Playtime, mealtime, shopping, and helping around the house all offer opportunities for children to get hands-on experience with math. Talking with kids about what they see and do is one of the best ways to raise awareness of math concepts.

 

Here are some ideas for babies and toddlers.

Babies

From birth, babies are discovering their hands and fingers; learning how to roll over, sit up, and crawl; watching as they are diapered, bathed, and dressed; and gaining the ability to feed themselves. All of these activities offer ways to talk with your child about math. As you spend time with your baby while shopping, taking a walk, or playing with them, point out shapes, colors, and spatial relationships.

 

Spatial Relationships

  • You are crawling so fast across the floor!
  • I will pick you up and put you in the high chair.

Numbers

  • You have two hands. Let’s wash one hand. Then we wash the other hand. One, two!
  • You have one bowl and one spoon.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Banana for Two)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Look at this big, round ball!
  • The front of the cereal box is a rectangle.

Toddlers

Toddlers are excited to join in on what adults are doing! Use that energy to engage your child in exploring math—and get a little help around the house! Your child will gain invaluable hands-on experience that helps make otherwise abstract concepts concrete.

 

Patterns

  • Make up a movement pattern and have your child follow along: step, step, hop. Step, hop, step. Have your child make up a pattern.
  • Have children point out patterns on their clothing.

Spatial Relationships

  • When coming in from outside, ask children to put their shoes on the ground or a shelf below.
  • While cleaning, ask children to put books on a shelf above and a toy in the bin or box.

     

    Ying-Hwa Hu (Clean Up, Up, Up!)

Shape, Size, and Measurement

  • Take a walk in your neighborhood and play “I Spy” with shapes or colors.
  • As your child builds a tower with blocks or recycled boxes, talk about small, medium, and large blocks or boxes. Talk about tall and taller, short and shorter towers.

Activities like the ones above and talking with children at all ages will make a big difference in their perceptions of math, their joy in doing math, and their readiness for school. For more discussion on math for young children and ideas on activities you can do with your child, visit the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) website.

 

Also check out the Star Bright Books website for additional home activities on numbers and some fun sing-alongs!

 

In our next blog post, we talk about what you can do to help older children (K-1) develop a love for math that will take them far.

Valentine’s Day as a Teaching Opportunity

Valentine’s Day can be an excellent teaching tool for young students. Today, rather than focusing on the “Hallmark holiday” aspect of Valentine’s Day, many elementary teachers and parents instead seize the opportunity to discuss the concepts of inclusivity, kindness, and generosity in the classroom and at home.

 

In Miriam Cohen’s Bee My Valentine, all the first graders in Jim’s classroom are excited to exchange valentines. “Everyone must send a card to everyone else in the first grade,” says the teacher. “Then nobody will be sad.” When Valentine’s Day arrives, everyone is happy—except for George, who somehow receives fewer valentines than everyone else. Through the encouragement and guidance of their teacher, Jim and his classmates find different ways to show George how much they care about him.

 

If valentines are distributed to classmates, as in Bee My Valentine, some teachers remind children they must bring enough for everyone. Doing otherwise easily results in hurt feelings (like George’s). Perhaps not all students want to bring valentines for everyone in the class. But some elementary teachers, like Eric Henry from Skokie, Illinois, counter this stance with discussions on fairness and inclusivity. Eric explains different scenarios to his students and asks how they would feel if they didn’t receive any valentines, or were given poorly made ones. Students are encouraged to see things from another point of view and empathize with one other.

 

Other elementary teachers integrate different activities, rather than ask students to exchange valentines. Jessica Boschen, for example, incorporates an activity focusing on self-love into her Valentine’s Day syllabus. Jessica notes that many children in her class “don’t hear words of affirmation on a daily basis nor do they come to school with a positive self-worth.” In her classroom activity, students are asked to reflect on three things: what they can do, who they are, and their different character traits. The students must then pick their favorite attribute and write it on a heart to be posted on the wall for everyone to see!

 

Parents can also use Valentine’s Day to celebrate kindness and generosity at home with their young children. Before Valentine’s Day arrives, parents and children can hold a valentine-making session together: construction paper, markers, glitter, and stickers are all part of the fun! Kids will have fun creating valentines with personal messages for friends and family members, and parents can use this time to talk about being considerate and compassionate to others. On Valentine’s Day, some parents begin the morning with a special breakfast before school, such as heart-shaped waffles and strawberries, and leave little notes of appreciation for their children to find throughout the day, either at home or in backpacks and lunchboxes. Other parents volunteer at retirement centers or pet shelters with their kids. During dinner, parents can initiate a conversation in which kids go around the table and name what they love and appreciate most about each person there.

 

While generosity, kindness, and inclusivity are all concepts that children can learn throughout the year, focusing on these ideas in celebration of Valentine’s Day will only make the holiday more meaningful. This February 14th, use the day as a teaching opportunity (and a time to eat chocolate)!