Math and Your Toddler
Every four years the National Center for Education Statistics conducts the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which compares US fourth and eighth graders to students in other countries. In the 2003 TIMSS study, US fourth graders scored above average on the math test but were 12th overall out of 25, placing behind countries such as Japan, England, and the Russian Federation. American eighth graders also scored above average yet placed 10th of 35 countries participating and were behind such countries as Hungary, Korea, and the Netherlands.
How can we improve these statistics and get our kids to improve their math skills? Start early! Children as young as seven months may already be developing abstract mathematical concepts—much earlier than once thought, according to a recent Duke University study by Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon published in the February 2006 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wondering how you can help? Take a look at the following list of concepts and activities that are sure to make learning math fun for your toddler—before he even starts school.
- Take a bucket of balls or other like objects of varying sizes. Have your child line the balls up across the floor. Next, ask your child to order the balls by size. Use words such as “small, smaller, smallest” or “big, bigger, biggest.” Take this opportunity to compare two items: “This ball is bigger than that one.” Or for more than two items: “This is a small ball. This ball is smaller than that ball. This is the smallest ball.”
- Go on a size walk. Look for small and big objects and compare similar items: “That is a tall tree! Can you find a taller tree?”
- Draw a line down the center of several sheets of paper. Label each side of the papers with opposite words such as big and small, or tall and short. Cut out two each of opposite shapes or objects (cars, animals, and so on) to fit each category. Have the child place the cutouts on the appropriate papers. You can also have the child glue the object to the appropriate paper and appropriate side.
- Fill plastic shoe boxes with ingredients such as rice, dry mashed potatoes, water, and so on. Allow children to play with same-shaped sets of stacking cups by scooping and pouring the ingredients in and out of the cups. Discuss how many scoops of one size it takes to fill another. Use words such as more and less.
- Using the same boxes, provide various shaped and sized containers. Consider individual-sized milk containers, drinking cups, and tubes. Allow the child to explore the material by pouring and scooping the ingredients into the containers.
- Label sheets of paper with standard shapes. Start with square, triangle, and circle. If the child is older, add rectangle, oval, diamond or rhombus, and hexagon (six equal sides).
Have cutouts of each shape in a variety of sizes. Have the child place the shapes on the correct paper. The child can also glue each shape to the correct paper.
- Cut out shapes of squares, triangles, rectangles, and circles in varying sizes. Allow children to create pictures on blank paper with the shapes.
Encourage using the shapes to create both concrete objects (people, trees, cars) and abstract objects (those that do not represent any known object).
- Take your child on a shape hunt. Glue one each of a triangle, square, rectangle, and circle on small note cards. Consider punching a hole in each card and placing the cards on a ring for easy access. Take the cards outside or through the house looking for common objects for each shape.
The cards serve as a reminder and reference. The adult can list on the back of each shape card what the child finds for the particular shape. Review the list once the game is stopped.
- As you did with the shape hunt, take your child on a number hunt. Adjust the number range depending on the age and knowledge of the child.
- Cut paper plates in half like a puzzle. On one side of the puzzle write a number and on the other half, place objects of the same number. You can use stickers, Popsicle sticks, small pretzels, etc. Have the child match the written number with the number of objects.
- Cut cardstock into smaller pieces to resemble a deck of cards. On one side of each card write a number. On the other side place stickers to match. Have the child count the stickers, then flip the card to see if the correct number was guessed.
- Write numbers on the inside bottoms of paper or plastic cups. Have the child count and place objects equal to the written number into the cup. Cheerios make tasty counters.
- Make a floor graph. Use colored pieces of paper or blocks to represent one unit. Have the child place a sheet of paper on the floor for each girl in the family. Select a different colored paper to represent the number of boys in the family. Place the lines beside one another. Discuss concepts of more and less, tall and short. Or: Collect a pile of toys. Graph the different toys (dolls, cars, and blocks) within the pile.
- Create or purchase a large piece of graph paper. Label with sunny, rainy, cloudy, snowy. Have the child color in one block for each day during the month that corresponds with the appropriate weather. Each label should be represented by a different color. Complete one graph for each month. Discuss concepts of most and fewest. This is an opportunity to also discuss that zero is a number. Or: Graph the different types of clothing included in one pile of laundry (socks, shirts, pants).
Numeration and Counting
YOU MIGHT BE INTERESTED IN