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

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