Thursday, June 19, 2014

Math for Preschoolers

Math is present in all parts of our daily lives, which makes teaching math to preschoolers a breeze. You don't need to look hard to find numbers, shapes and measurements right at home. Creativity and homemade games, allow you to teach preschoolers many basic math concepts and skills without investing in lots of commercial products or toys. Here are just a few ideas to get you started.

Counting and Sorting
Counting is a concept that is basic to beginning math skills. There are many times throughout the day where counting can be naturally and easily incorporated into the daily routine. Whether you are on a walk, having snack, picking up toys or in the car there are many opportunities that arise. Similarly sorting is another base concept that is easy to talk about throughout the day. In addition you can plan for activities that build math skills that are simple and you probably have what you need in your home right now.

I used snack time as an opportunity to utilize counting with sorting concepts. I’d have the children “drive up” with their snack bowl to the fruit stand (I had separate bowls of each fruit set out for serving and I, of course, was the server). I asked them “How many pieces of kiwi would you like?” and they would respond giving us the opportunity to count out that many into their bowl and go on to the next fruit. To switch things around I would dish up their bowls for them and then have them sort out how many of each fruit they had. We had some small tongs for the sorting “tool” and divided dish to sort into. Results of these activities included building counting and sorting skills, small motor use with our sorting tool and it really encouraged eating those fruits!

Counting and sorting can be incorporated when playing with their current toys – “How many blue Legos do you have in that building?” or “Let’s see how many Legos we used to make that tower.” We used counting and sorting when folding their laundry – socks were the big sorting project and we’d count as we went. There so many times during our day the counting and/or sorting could be encouraged.

Measuring and Comparison
Measuring and comparisons are both basic concepts that also fit into the daily routine. Simple items such as measuring cups, measuring spoons, scoops, funnels, rulers, measuring tape and the like are great tools. Also, different sized plastic containers work well. I liked to include the children in baking and food preparation activities which included a turn at measuring for everyone.

Scooping and pouring activities are great for bringing in measuring concepts. We’d have containers of water, sand, beans, rice, un-popped corn or even paper clips as objects to scoop up for measurement. Pouring from one size cup into another also introduces differentiation between measurements. Then we’d move onto guessing how many of were in a container. I liked using a clear small glass or baby food jar. Fill with items that can be counted (measured) and compare with others. For example, how many beans are in the jar and how many paperclips are in the other jar? This led us to questions about why there were more in one jar then the other, which is part of the comparison concept. Guessing games are the stepping stones to prediction which is a more complex concept but one that can be introduced in the preschool years. Simple activities like this naturally flow into conversations about weight, length, volume and other broader mathematical concepts.

The concept of comparison also includes activities about size and shape. Understanding large/small, big/little, tall/short are just some of the ways we can look at size comparison. Activities that encourage children to discover a ratio of small items to large build on the size concept. Basic shape identification includes understanding the concepts of circle, square, triangle. Take a “shape walk,” you’ll be amazed at how many basic shapes the children will identify right in your neighborhood.

Simple pattern identification is a launch pad for more complex mathematical concepts. Stringing large beads onto yarn to match a given pattern is just one way to begin to explore this concept. Other activities could include patterns in puzzles, building blocks, matching games, simple shape blocks, songs, books or rhymes. Nature is full of patterns. Beginning to recognize patterns visually is the first step to recognizing conceptual or mathematical patterns. Sequence is also pattern driven and can be demonstrated through the ideas of beginning, middle, end when telling a story. It also encourages early reading skills.

Songs or Fingerplays
There are lots of songs and fingerplays that encourage counting and math concepts. Great for anytime during the day they can not only teach but are great fun. Many preschool songs and fingerplays have actions and get them moving. Also, singing and action rhymes can go with you anywhere. Here is just one example of a countdown fingerplay or action activity:

Five Little Speckled Frogs
Five little speckled frogs,
Sitting on a speckled log,
Eating the most delicious bugs, yum, yum.
One jumped into the pool
Where it was nice and cool.
Then there were four speckled frogs.
(continue with the next verse counting down each time until there are NO frogs left)

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