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.”
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.”
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.”
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!