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Cool Math for Kids! How babies begin to understand basic math concepts and how you can encourage their learning development.

Math skills do not begin when your child starts to add and subtract.  Math skills do not begin when your child starts to count.  Math skills begin when your child is a baby!  Just as your child’s vocabulary starts to grow, their understanding of numbers, quantity, and part/whole relationships is growing. Don’t believe me?  Here are some examples of how your everyday activities start building a foundation for math!

SHAPES:  Shape sorters have a vital role in laying that first brick in the math foundation.  As your child attempts to place a shape, he learns initially by trial and error.  He will try one place and if he fails, try another with no plan or thought to size and shape.  But gradually, it clicks!  These shapes are different from each other!  Patterns!  Soon your child is able to recognize the pattern of a shape and find that pattern on the sorter.  With practice your child becomes faster and faster at recognizing shapes and can move to complex shapes such as animal forms.

SHARING:  Yes, your child is learning an early math skill when he shares!   Let me paint a picture for you.  Kate is playing trains and has two trains in her possession.  Brady approaches and reaches for one.  Kate pulls the trains away, looks down to inspect her possessions.  After some deliberation she extends one to Brady, recognizing that she still has one to play with.  Even if Kate were to keep both trains, math was involved!  She chose to keep two and leave her play mate with zero.  So sharing and the consideration of sharing foster early math skills!

COUNTING:  Perhaps you count the stairs leading outside.  Perhaps you count the blocks they have stacked.  It doesn’t matter what you are counting, you are teaching an early math skill!  Initially your child will rotely count without understanding of one to one correspondence.  Rote means saying the numbers, but not understanding the meaning of each number.  They might count 10 bugs, though there are only 8 bugs pictured in their book.  But soon, she will be able to count with one to one correspondence.  She will point to one bug and say ‘one’, point to the second bug and say ‘two’, and so on with accuracy.

KITCHEN HELPER:  Math is everywhere, especially in the kitchen!  When you invite your child to help you measure ingredients, you are introducing math concepts.  Plus, you are having fun with math! Picture you and your son in the kitchen making cookies. You point out the number 2 on the recipe, you gather two eggs, and talk about it, “The recipe says we need two eggs”.  You count the eggs as you pull them from the carton, “one egg, two eggs.”  As you crack the first one, “one egg in, now we need one more”.  As you crack the second egg, “second egg in, all done with the eggs”.  Your little one is learning about numbers, quantity, measuring, adding, and estimating:  math!

ONE:  Sometime between the age of 2-3 years a child will understand ‘one’.  You will say to your child “give me one” and they will give you one.  Not more than one, just one.  This is the beginning of understanding quantity!  Soon you will ask for ‘two’ and he will give you ‘two’.  You see the pattern?!

PATTERNS:  Between the ages of 3-4, your child will be able to notice simple patterns and accurately tell you what element would complete a pattern sequence when viewing a sequence of objects or images in books. For example, A B A B A B A ___.  What letter would complete that sequence?  B!  You can have patterns of letters, animals (i.e. cat, dog, bird, cat, dog, ___), shapes (i.e. circle, triangle, triangle, circle, triangle, ___), colors (i.e. red, blue, yellow, red, blue, __), or types of toys (i.e. block, block, car, block, block, ___).  Many believe that the ability to recognize patterns correlates with higher cognitive ability.  The theory is that the ability to recognize, complete, and create patterns is not just a mathematical skill.  The ability to recognize, complete, and create patterns is a life skill that involves being able to make predictions, problem solve, and think critically.

BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST:  While playing, your daughter may notice that her sister’s block tower is bigger.  You may help her build a bigger one which becomes the biggest.  Oh, the fun you can have with superlatives during play!  Picture your toddler in play:  This car is fast (car rolls across floor).  This car is faster (second car rolls a little faster).  This car is the fastest (third car zooms across the floor and your child rolls over with laughter).  Or picture your child at the playground engaged in a friendly competition with another child about who can swing higher.  Toddlers and preschoolers love exploring these early math concepts.

COMPARISONS:  While your child is playing hide and seek, talking a walk in the woods,  exploring the playground, and playing with toys he is learning about comparisons.  Consider the following comparison concepts:  height, size, and position.  Height concepts such as high/low (She is swinging hight and he is swinging low). Size concepts such as big/small (Let’s climb over the big rock) and tall/short (The squirrel ran up the tall tree).  Position concepts such as over/under (I was hiding under the bridge).  When your child makes comparisons, she is building her math foundation!

REPRESENTATION:  Representation means making numbers visual in a realistic way.  For example, think of an example where your child drew a picture for each member in your family.  Or, how when you have a tea party there is a cup for each person in attendance.  When your child does this he is visually representing numbers in a meaningful way for him.  He is applying his number sense by matching the number of items to the number of people.  Aren’t our children so clever?!

Children begin their understanding of math while playing and exploring!  Their minds are growing and embracing early math concepts naturally.  By playing games that involve the skills listed above you are not only having fun with your child, but you are building the foundation for math!  Your little mathematician will love you for it!