Monday, March 30, 2009

Playing with numbers - how children learn about quantity.

I was planning to read this book for a while. It was highly recommended to me by my friend Autumn and a few other people. I thought that the book will be somewhat theoretical, but I am really enjoying reading it. It describes a lot of research on child development in the terms that are simple to understand. The main premise of the book is that children learn best through an unstructured play and not through any kind of formal instruction with educational props. It really speaks to my own approaches and also contains a lot of practical advice on what to do to encourage certain areas of development at certain ages. One of the first chapters talked about how children learn about numbers and quantity and I was amazed to discover how "on the spot" the authors were describing the steps and mistakes on the path to mathematical awareness. Every chapter ends with Bringing the Lessons Home section summarizing the advice in it. Here is one for helping children learn about numbers and mathematical concepts:

• Think blocks, not videos. The very best way to learn about numbers is to manipulate objects, line them up, compare sets, and so on. There is simply no substitution for playing with objects, and these actions speak louder than words. Plus, this type of play is something children love to do without being told!

• Find the numbers everywhere. Just as you can find rectangles in buildings and hexagons in stop signs, numbers appear wherever you turn. When we deal the same number of cards to each player and when we count up how many party favors we need for our guests, we are doing mathematics. When we add more ice cream for the additional person, we are adding quality. When we then eat ice cream, we are doing subtraction.

• Playing = learning. Playing the card game of War is math at its best. Money offers wonderful opportunities not only for counting, but for creating sets. Can your child create the set you have created? If you put out three pennies, can he? If you take away one penny, can he? Which is worth more - three pennies or one nickel?

• Encourage your child to learn in context. We all learn better when we learn something meaningful. Children will learn much more at a supermarket looking for big and small apples that they will from computer games. At around 3 or 4, children love to play board games. Candy Land is one that has been forever popular among the young set. When you and your child, roll the dice and move your pieces, you are using one-to-one correspondence, and the outcome really matters to your child! Our job as teachers and parents, then, is to seize the opportunities that live around us and to allow children to learn in context.