Sunday, July 24, 2011

And now on to Literacy

Let’s go from the last series of columns, developing a math mind, to understanding what we can do to create a poet laureate! You may have done a double take when you read those last two words, poet laureate, and wondered why this is something I believe is important.
Last Friday evening I had the great pleasure of meeting and listening to a former poet laureate of Wisconsin, Denise Sweet, along with other regional writers. As I listened to the readings, I was struck with the musicality of the language, the importance of the topics they chose to write about, and the purely enjoyable experience of hearing well-crafted writings. All of us in our local Writers’ Exchange aspire to this quality of writing.
But where does it start­this great talent and skill? It starts, of course, in the womb. The fetus at about 5 months hears not only all the sounds of the mother’s internal organs, but also the words she is saying. Her own speech comes through more clearly than the external sounds such as the television or a lawnmower. Why should this be important for us? It is important because in this stage of fetal development the brain is developing, preparing the baby for learning language in the stage after birth.
Learning language follows a developmental sequence in all human beings. Auditory receptive language comes first. We hear and understand the words that are said to us. Verbal expressive language is next. We learn to talk in order to communicate with others. With those two abilities we move on to learning to read. Reading is based upon the ability to decode visual symbols and take meaning from them. Finally, the highest order of language is possible. To put everything together, putting the pencil to paper and creating our own stories and poems.
On September 22nd, Bruce Dethlefson, Wisconsin’s current poet laureate, will be in Ladysmith. I hope you will come and experience the English language in its most beautiful form. In closing today’s column, I would like to share a quote from Bruce, “if a novel is winter, and a short story is a snow storm, then a poem is a snowball, squeezed.”
In keeping with the previous quote, but completely out of season, I give you this children’s poem.

Merry little snowflakes,
Dancing in the air
Busy little snowflakes,
Dancing everywhere!

Blowing in our faces
Falling at our feet
And kissing all the children
As they run along the street!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Now we can talk about counting

Our last column on developing a math mind is about quantity and counting. We’ve left this for the last because being able to understand and use quantity is dependent upon having developed the brain connections for judging volume, size, directionality, and one to one correspondence.
Too often we jump ahead into counting and make the assumption that if the child can count, he can understand quantity. We applaud when our two year old can count to five. The problem is he doesn’t really understand the quantity of five. He has dutifully memorized our words, “One, two, three, four, five,” without understanding the mathematics of the quantity of five.
Mathematical reasoning develops sequentially in children. We may jump ahead to a splinter skill, believing the child knows all the prerequisites, but that is not usually true. A good example of this lies in my collection of treasures from my daughter’s kindergarten class.
Kindergarteners usually can count very well to twenty by the time Mother’s Day comes along in May, so we may suppose they have a pretty good understanding of the quantity and volume of, --let’s say, twenty eggs. Not true! As I pull out a treasured cookbook, I read the words of five and six year olds telling Mrs. Thompson how their mom makes a favorite recipe. Here’s a kindergartener’s favorite recipe for pancakes:
“You take about a gallon of flour and pour the milk in. Then add one egg. Put in a cup of salt and a cup of sugar. Stir it up for an hour. Then you fry them.”How much fun to read these words and glimpse into a six-year-old child’s understanding of quantity. Without diminishing our enjoyment, we can still give toddlers and preschoolers concrete experience in number and quantity.
  • Practice counting objects, not just saying numbers in order.
  • Compare amounts by showing differing numbers of objects, can your child tell you which amount is more?
  • Use words that describe amounts such as more/less, few/many, all/some/none.

Let us enjoy each developmental stage in mathematics our children must pass through and let us also give our children the activities that build brain connections for a mind that one day will comprehend trigonometry, physics, and calculus.

Two little houses, closed up tight
Show two closed fists
Open the windows and let in the light.
Open hands wide and keep them open for the next line.
Ten little people, tall and straight
Ready for school at half past eight

Monday, July 11, 2011

It's never too early to learn calculus!

It’s never too early to learn calculus!!! Many equations in calculus are solved using one to one relationships. Where does a child begin to learn about one to one correspondence? He or she learns this right in his family. About the time that a baby can safely hold and eat a cracker, the baby is learning this concept of calculus: one cookie for baby, one for mommy, and one for big brother.
I hope you enjoy making muffins or cupcakes! It is a great way to practice one to one correspondence. Your three year old can take a paper liner from you and put one liner in each place in the muffin pan. Expand your child’s thinking by challenging him or her to notice when there are not enough liners or when you have some left over.
• “How many juice boxes should we pack for our picnic? One for daddy, one for mommy, and one for Jeffy. Should we pack a juice box for Rover? No!! Rover doesn’t drink juice!”
• “Let’s set the table. Susie can help. One plate for mommy and one plate for daddy. What did you say?—you don’t have enough plates? Who else needs a plate? Oh, you do! One more plate for Susie.”
• “Here are the forks, one for daddy, one for mommy, and one for Susie. Now the spoons. Can Susie do it? What did you say? You have one left over? Do we need it? No, we only need three.”
• “Let’s put your shoes on. One shoe for this foot. Where’s the shoe for your other foot?”
One to one relationships are everywhere in a young child’s life. Give them the opportunity to practice, explore, and learn how these relationships work. It’s the first step on the ladder to learning calculus.

Dulce de chocolate, 
Dulce de chocolate;
Uno para ti y uno para mi.

Chocolate candy, 
Chocolate candy; 
One for you and one for me. 
Clap hands to the rhythm.
Continue using dos, tres, cuatro, and cinquo. Show one finger on "uno" and point to the child on "ti" and to yourself on "mi". For more fun use small chocolate candies, giving the correct amount for each verse.

Monday, July 4, 2011

More activities to develop the math brain

Today’s column offers additional activities for baby to develop his or her ability to judge volume. As we’ve said in previous columns, early brain connections in estimating volume develops our baby’s math mind. Let’s come up with a multitude of experiences in volume:
Get in the box. Collect boxes of all sizes, some should be big enough for a baby to crawl into, some half that size, and some big enough for you to join baby. Find some boxes so small that they hold only a little teddy bear. You can expand on the concept of volume by adding descriptive words such as big, small, too big, tiny, huge, itty-bitty, and monster size.
Puzzle it. Puzzle work helps children with shape, rotation, visual parts and wholes, and with volume and size. At the “put in” stage you need to find puzzles that require very little rotation and fitting such as circles. Look for puzzles with one to four pieces to minimize frustration and to give baby the sense of accomplishment. Many of these beginning puzzles have knobbed handles, making it easier for baby to grasp. When choosing knobbed puzzles, look for large, easy to grasp knobs and be sure the knobs will not come off and become a choking hazard. Some of the best toys in the puzzle category are the six piece ‘shape sorters’ and the ‘pound a ball’. If you happen to visit a Montessori classroom, you will see the ‘cylinder block’ toys. They are designed for the three to five year old exploring volume, size, depth, and diameter.
Get dirty and wet. Wading pools and sand boxes stocked with safe filling and pouring containers are perfect for exploring volume and the attributes of these different materials in the hot summer months. Sand and water play is sensory in nature, relaxing and enjoyable for toddlers and preschoolers. For safety, always monitor your child. Better yet, get in the wading pool or sandbox with him or her! Keep the water and container for the water clean and the sand protected against cats seeking bathroom facilities.
Here is a giant
who is tall, tall, tall.
(stand up on tip-toes)
And here is an elf
who is small, small, small.
(squat down low)
The elf who is small
will try, try, try
(Begin to stand up)
To reach the giant
who is high, high, high
(stretch up high with arms reaching)