Kids Build Together – Math Readiness in Early Childhood

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What is math readiness? Is it really possible to teach math readiness to very young children – toddlers and preschoolers? What does it look like? For several years Carolyn Galbraith ran a play and learning center, focusing on math readiness for preschool children. In this post, Carolyn describes some of her experiences and the outcomes she observed.  

We are lying on our backs looking up  at the ceiling, searching for shapes. We see squares, rectangles. The smoke detector is a circle. One of the kids points out that the joins between the ceiling panels make crosses, and excitedly: “Parallel lines!”

When my kids were small, I ran a play & learning center in a small town outside Sydney, Australia. It held mostly building blocks and was a place where parents and kids could come and build whatever they liked. Inspired by Papert’s constructionism, it was a space where people could learn by constructing items meaningful to them, and sharing them with others. That’s why I called it Kids Build Together.

On Monday mornings I ran a math readiness group. It had mostly 2 to 4 year-olds. There were three main areas of focus – enjoying patterns, enjoying problems, and enjoying the process. We read a lot of math-themed picture books, tussle with simple problems. I tried to always end with a math-themed poem. Here’s a sample of one of our sessions:

“Today we’ve sung “Round about the circle” and passed a bag around with different shapes. Now the kids are going to try to fit them together. There’s no right answer, and it’s fun to see the different ways that the kids turn and feel and explore the properties of their shapes.

Next we read a gorgeously illustrated book about spirals in nature called “Swirl by Swirl”  by Joyce Sidman. Afterwards, the kids use different colored stones to make their own spirals.  They’re beautiful.

We’ve been reading “Measuring Penny” by Loreen Leedy and using different ways to measure things. Today the kids use big blocks to build towers as tall as themselves. They’re predicting how many blocks they’ll need, and I write it down on the board. They’re surprised to discover it only needs 15 blocks, rather than 100, to reach their height! I give them a measuring tape as another way to check their height, and 100 cm is close – so their predictions weren’t far off, after all.

To finish off I read a poem about time “Twenty-Four Hours” by Charles Causley. The kids love listening to poetry, the rhythm captures them instantly.

When I think back to learning math when I was at school, music, stories and games were the things I wished we used (I remember trying to design my own curriculum back in high school!) Finding the incredible mathematical patterns in nature, from fractals to Fibonacci spirals, has been a wonderful discovery of adulthood, as well as learning the stories of the mathematicians themselves. I hoped to share the pleasures of discoveries like these with the kids and their parents, and let them in on a secret – that math is more than memorizing numbers, and that readiness for math can be readiness for enjoying life.

Now my two kids are at school, and my center is no more. I help run a math class for the little ones at the local school, and include some Math in Your Feet dance activities there. I also tutor some children with literacy and numeracy challenges. It’s been fun sharing some of the resources with the older ones, such as the book about Fibonacci and the ideas of fractals.

It’s now I realize why all the work on symmetry in the younger years is essential – so much of mathematics is symmetry and balance! There’s not much time to cover it in school, a lesson or so. The ones who’ve spent years building with blocks are immediately advantaged. I encourage the parents of the older ones to bring the Lego back out, and build together; to walk in nature and observe the wonderful math in flower petals and tree branches. The secret hasn’t changed with their ages; math is still more than memory, and is still an important part for enjoying life.

Enjoyed this story and feel inspired to try these math activities with your preschoolers? Let us know how it goes. Do you have a math story to share? We can’t wait to hear from you!

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Posted in A Math Circle Journey

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