Educational researchers recently made an amazing discovery. They found that a child’s mathematical ability in kindergarten predicts third-grade test scores in both reading and math. Researchers are working to find out why. It could be because early math learning improves the brain for more learning or it could be that being good in math increases a child’s confidence in their ability to learn in other subjects. Or it could be a bit of both. The reason doesn’t matter, however, what matters is that you can easily give your child the gift of school success by working on math skills now by simply expanding and reinforcing what you are already doing.
In addition to counting with your child, introduce simple addition and algebra. For example, while giving out snack crackers put 1 in one hand 3 in the other and ask how many crackers will there be when they are together. Another example: while setting the table for a family of four, take out two spoons and say ‘I have two spoons but I need four. How many more spoons do I need?’ An important skill connected to counting is the ability to recognize the number of items in a group without counting them. Make a snack time game with M&Ms or raisins. Open your hand to show a few pieces, then close your hand back up and ask your child to guess how many he saw. Check the accuracy of the guess by counting. Right or wrong, guesser gets to keep the items.
Math words are as important to learn as number skills. 3-year-olds begin to understand and use words such as ‘up,’ ‘down,’ ‘front,’ back’ while 4-year-olds continue to master directional words such as ‘beside,’ ‘inside’ and ‘outside.’ By age 5 a child should be using directional words correctly in sentences. You expand your child’s comprehension of these words by using them in context and occasionally ‘testing’ to see if they really understand the word. For example, using the word in context, you point and say ‘put away the toy that is under the table.’ An example of testing the same word is to use it in an unusual context without pointing or looking. For example, while facing your child say ‘Put your coat under the table.’
Another category of math words are those used for comparison in size, length and shape. For example, using the words ‘big,’ ‘bigger’ and ‘biggest’ to compare similar items. A 3-year old begins to compare the sizes of two things while a 4-year old can compare objects using words such as ‘faster’ and ‘heaviest.’ You expand your child’s abilities by pointing out comparisons in daily activities. Commenting on the largest block, the smaller doll, or the round pancake are natural bits of conversation that make a huge improvement in your child’s ability to use and understand these words.
Parents are their child’s first and most consistent teachers. Your child soaks up new knowledge through hands-on play and social interaction. You easily boost your child’s kindergarten readiness math skills by expanding the occasional everyday interaction into math play moments.
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed.