Helping Children Learn Math

Teaching math to children is sometimes a very difficult task. It is an entire subject that does not have the same easily explained concepts as some other topics. Each teacher has a slightly different way of instructing students about the basic and advanced concepts in mathematics. There are a few simple ways that parents and teachers can help children to learn math beyond what is in the core curriculum.

Develop The Correct Vocabulary

Math has its own distinct vocabulary. The word problems that are listed in teacher resource books go very far to try to explain real world examples of situations that require math as a solution. Ultimately, there will come a time when a student requires the correct understanding of the vocabulary of mathematics in order to describe procedures, solutions and even problems. Simple words like sum, divisor and product are all useful. This vocabulary will serve as the educational base needed to move forward with more advanced concepts. Allowing children to go forward without the correct vocabulary will result in problems in higher grades.

Integrate Lessons Into Everyday Life

There are limits to the operational memory of a child. There are also some basic facts about memory that will present problems if the lessons are not reinforced later in the day. New concepts like division or multiplication need to be refreshed within a few hours after they are first introduced. Homework normally helps with this. A better way would be for parents and teachers to integrate mathematical concepts into everyday life. This could include asking a student to divide resources between a group of classmates for a project, or it could include attaching creative games to other activities and subjects so that there is some awareness of the importance of math outside of testing. Additionally, establishing an environment that reminds children about mathematical concepts is helpful. This might mean hanging math posters around a room, or making games available that will help a child to practice the skills that have already been taught.

Move Beyond Procedural Understanding

Some students are able to move through many years of school with just a procedural understanding of mathematics. This means that the operations that are necessary are memorized, but they are not understood. It is important to teach children exactly how and why certain operations work. Rote memorization of division and multiplication will not help when more advance algebraic concepts are taught in high school. There are teacher resource books available that provide the tools needed to explain how division or fractions actually work.

Helping Your Pre-Schooler With Math-Read Math With Your Child

We have already discussed the importance of developing a good math foundation for your preschoolers. The first, easiest, and best way to add math into your child's early life is to add math to the reading you already do with your child. It is never too early to begin reading to your child, and it is never too early to add math concepts to that reading.

It isn't necessary to run out and buy a bunch of preschool math books, although you might mention to friends and relatives that math related story books would be a good gift idea. You probably already have books with math concepts. For example, Goldilocks and the Three Bears is a wonderful story for introducing math concepts. It allows for early counting. It has size comparisons with too little, too big, and just right. It has one-to-one matching with baby bear and the little bed. Certainly you won't use this terminology, but as you read you can point out these concepts. Three Blind Mice , Three Little Pigs , Three Little Kittens , and Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed are other good examples you might already have.

Before spending lots of money on books, I suggest checking your local public library. You can check out books, read them with your child, and if the book seems to be one of those books your child wants you to read over and over, THEN you can buy it. Certainly use your library before buying anything you haven't read from online sources.

If you are interested in buying your own math related books, I have several suggestions. I am a big fan of Dr. Seuss books. Hand, Hand, Fingers, Thumb introduces large numbers. Ten Apples Up On Top! is a good counting book. One fish two fish red fish blue fish is good for counting and colors. Horton Hears a Who! even introduces the concept of infinity. Many other Dr. Seuss books contain number concepts, colors, and shapes for reading with your child.

You may have read about or heard of Baby Einstein. If so, you need to know that having your young child watching the videos is a very bad idea ! Research is showing that there should be NO SCREEN TIME for children under two and very limited time for the older child. However, the Baby Einstein My First Book of Numbers is a wonderful example of what a number picture book should be.

The Sesame Street book ABC and 1 2 3 is also an excellent math related picture book.

As you look into buying math picture books, there are some things you need to consider. The book should be colorful, interesting to you, and it needs to make sense – not just rhyme. Don't assume that because it is about numbers that it is a good book. For example, I came across a book called One, Two, Three! by Sandra Boyton. I actually got confused as I read! One line said "… and when you want to explore, the number you need is FOUR." WHY? What does four have to do with exploring? Another page said "Seven is perfect for a play." Again, I questioned what that even meant. Any book you pick needs to be something you can talk about with your child. Choose books that you can read with enthusiasm. If a book doesn't make sense to you, don't buy it. I want to reiterate that it is not necessary to buy lots of number related books because you can find number concepts like counting and making comparisons in virtually any book.

As you read to your child, you should work on what is called "the language of space." This refers to words like front, back, top, bottom, over, under, in front of, behind, first, last, in, on, corner, edge, surface, and so on. These are all important concepts for your child to understand when they start school. They can't line up behind the blue line if they don't know what 'behind' means.

When you are reading to your child, be sure to:

  1. Hold your child in your lap.
  2. Convey to your child how much you enjoy your reading time together.
  3. Read everyday.
  4. Get involved with the story. Read with lots of enthusiasm and expression. Use different voices. Be active by pointing out things on the pages. Ask questions.
  5. Pay attention to your child's responses. Know when to put the book away. If your child loses interest, do something different.
  6. Be prepared to read the same book over and over and be enthusiastic each time.

Above all else, make reading FUN!

Helping Your Pre-Schooler With Math-Time to Reflect and Evaluate

We are now one-third of the way through this series. This is a good time to reflect on and evaluate your progress with helping your pre-school child develop math skills. What strategies worked as you hoped? Have you encountered any problems? Do you still have a clear view of what you are trying to accomplish and why?

In the introductory article of this series we discussed the research finding that the critical years for learning logic and establishing a solid math foundation are ages 1 to 4. Equally startling, from continued studies, are results showing that a child's math skills at kindergarten entry are a better predictor of future academic success that are reading skills, social skills, or the ability to focus.

Read that again! A child's math skills at kindergarten entry are a better predictor of future academic success than even reading skills. This result is HUGE! I hope this fact brings into focus just how very important your efforts are for your child's future.

At this point you might be thinking that you should transfer the responsibility for math learning to an organized preschool, but I strongly caution you against this idea. Preschool, whether started at 3 or 4 years of age, can be beneficial, especially for social skills, and might become appropriate for your child. However, it misses those initial critical years for establishing a good math foundation. In addition, as this knowlegde of the importance of preschool math education becomes more widely known, more programs are being devised that rely too heavily on "seat work." Preschool children lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful in an all seat work environment. Sadly, in too many of these programs our very young children are losing their enthusiasm for learning. It is imperative that this NOT happen to your child!

Now might be a good time to re-read the second article in this series: 7 things You Must Always Do. Realize that these procedures and attitudes are important for all learning to occur. In fact, you have probably used most, if not all, of these as you have worked with your child's language skills. Realize, too, that most of the early math skills can be handled along with the early language skills. Learning to count – 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, … –is the same skill as learning to say the alphabet – a, b, c, d, e, … Learning to write numerals can accompany learning to write alphabet letters. Your child's expanding vocabulary can and should include math vocabulary as well.

So far in this series, we have discussed helping your child master counting, number recognition, using number lines, focusing on "if-then" thinking, addition, subtraction, number families, even and odd numbers, and a quick look at some simple number patterns. Hopefully, you are taking advantage of "teachable moments" rather than trying to schedule learning sessions. Your routines, like trips to the store, fixing meals, play get-togethers, going to the park, bedtime reading, etc., provide many opportunities for learning to occur.

Let your child's interest and enthusiasm guide what you do, when you do it, and for how long . Frequently return to previously learned skills to check that their understanding is still present and correct. This will let you know if you need to re-teach a skill. Know that having to re-teach is a normal part of learning and does NOT indicate a failure on your part.

I am going to postpone articles introducing new math skills until after a few articles that will address some related issues, like the importance of reading to your child, fixing learned mistakes, task analysis, and learning styles, continue working with your child as you have been, always staying positive, keeping things fun, reinforcing success, and paying close attention to your child's body language and mood.

Points to remember with preschoolers:

  1. Children learn at their own pace. They will pick up some skills quickly while other skills will need repeated practice.
  2. Children need to be actively involved in their learning. They must DO things rather than watching and listening to you.
  3. Repetition is necessary for learning to occur. However, make certain that what is being repeated is correct . Practice only makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

Keep up the good work with your preschooler! Never lose sight of just how important you are to future success.

Helping Your Pre-Schooler With Math-Brain Friendly or Learning Styles?

Whether because you have read my other articles in the Early Childhood Education category or because you have researched this topic online, you likely have questions about how the terms "brain friendly" and "learning styles" fit into your work with your preschooler. Certainly the goal of both is to help your child learn, so what's the difference? Is one better than the other?

"Learning styles" is the older concept and represents the results of several research studies trying to determine how we learn. You will find a summary of these findings in my article "Learning Styles-Should I Have my Child Tested?" (The answer is NO.) These concepts were essentially guesses, based on observation of behavior, about how the brain takes in and stores information. Guesses as to how the brain learns.

I recommend that you read that article to familiarize yourself with the terminology because you are likely to encounter some or all of these concepts as you further study early childhood education. You may even encounter teachers in your child's future who still hold onto these concepts. Some of these attempts to explain how we learn have more merit than others; there is some truth in each; but none provided the full answer. The concept of learning styles has lost favor in the field of education. In my research for this article I was surprised at how many articles and videos referred to "debunking" this concept of learning styles.

Having taught in public schools in the '90's when we were encouraged to test our student's learning styles, and students were often placed in classes where their learning style matched the teacher's style, the idea of ‚Äč‚Äčlearning styles being "debunked" initially seemed impossible. However, this change in attitude about education is the result of new developments in brain scan technology, brain surgery, and brain research. We no longer have to guess how the brain learns. We have lots of research and practical verification of techniques that have proven effective for learning to occur.

The field of brain based education and learning is only a couple decades old; and the field is not without its critics; but even Harvard University now offers master's and doctoral programs through its MBE – Mind, Brain, and Education – program. The study of brain based education is about learning what techniques parents and educators should use to best engage the brain in learning.

Now that we know how the brain actually learns, it is important the you use brain friendly techniques as you work with your preschooler. You don't need a teaching degree to use brain friendly techniques. I will now summarize here things you need to consider when you work with your child. The brain needs color, exercise / movement, a variety of activities, novelty, processing time, music, limiting stress, information in small "chunks," plenty of rest, introduction to "the arts" – dance, drama (acting things out ), and art, frequent review, good nutrition, and more. There are many specific techniques that teachers use in their classrooms, but this list will give you a good start for working at home ..

There are a few things you should notice from the list:

  1. These activities actually utilize all the different concepts of learning styles, which is why you don't need to test your child, and why I did not list them. Using brain friendly techniques addresses what you need to know about learning styles.
  2. You are already using many of these techniques. You are already working in short periods of time, giving time for processing, lots of review, movement, different kinds of activities, watching your child to avoid stress, etc.
  3. Skill & drill worksheets are NOT brain friendly. There are hundreds of sites online offering worksheets for your preschooler. However, unless these worksheets have lots of color, novel and varied activities, are short, are self-checking to avoid practiced mistakes, and you are willing to oversee every moment of their use, you should avoid using them!

If you want more information about brain based learning, I recommend reading Eric Jensen, David Sousa, and / or John Medina.

The answer to the initial question is that "brain friendly" is the learning concept you need to incorporate into your work with your child. Notice that I have not even mentioned math because these techniques are for ALL learning. Remember to always stay positive with your child, be enthusiastic about learning, and avoid boredom in your child. Boredom actually destroys brain cells, and we certainly don't want that!