Just like there are several ways of teaching language skills, there are also several ways of teaching mathematical skills!
Games teach children mathematical concepts
Playing games related to math is the most common approach to include more observation, counting, classification and comparing skills in children’s lives. In a boardgame, children can explore how the dice works and, through it, discover the concepts of chance and probability. When moving the game piece on the board, children can learn about one-to-one correspondence and sequencing.
In a block construction game, children need skills to make ongoing observations and compare different sizes, colours and shapes. This is not only for the geometrical reason but also because it is impossible to build a castle if you are not aware of the features of a ball or a cube. The ball is round, so you cannot set other blocks on top of it, and the cube has six sides, each of them quite stable, so you can build on them quite easily. It has been shown in research that children who have difficulties in observing and perceiving mathematical features in their games, may have difficulties in math in school later. That is why these skills should be supported in early childhood through play and games.
Another important aspect in developing the early math skills is the so called “math talk”. “Math talk” is simple but effective. It means adding numbers and mathematical concepts into the discussion with children. For example, we can easily add numbers, amounts and calculations into a block play with the child: “How many more blocks do you need?” “Oops, six cubes from my tower fell down!” “Look, every other block in my row is an octagon!” …the list goes on. This is how children learn about mathematical concepts – through play and hands-on experiments that are verbalised for them.
Start exploring together
Let’s not stop at block play and board games – we can introduce even more complex mathematical concepts to children. Children are naturally curious towards machines and technical items that grownups use. Have you noticed how toddlers always want to fiddle with the TV remote? Let them try it – the remote control is full of numbers, which you can study together. You can also explain to them how batteries work.
Does your child like to switch the lights on and off? Next time, don’t forbid them immediately, but take a moment to marvel at electricity and ponder what it means when the light is “off” and “on”. Does your child love to play with water? Bring real measuring cups from the kitchen to your next waterplay session and together find out how many decilitres you can fit in one litre. Is your child a fast runner? Next time bring a timer to the park to study together how much time it takes to run one lap around the yard.
Mathematics all around us
Children get excited when they get to try “adult equipment”, and we can use that excitement to mutual benefit, to support children’s math skills and feed their inquiry. Kitchen scales, tape measures, thermometers, alarm clocks, the speedometer in your car and even the calendar hanging on the wall – everything relates to math! The key is to include children in the daily routines that involve these items and let children explore them. Next step is to join the play and start the math talk. When children are exposed to these kinds of opportunities, they will learn to see mathematical concepts all around them.