Everyday experiences offer opportunity to teach math

A few months ago I posted an article about early childhood math in this column and have since been asked for more ideas. It is nice to hear there are parents who WANT to know more about giving their child a basis for succeeding in school in their early years.

So, here are a few more things that my wife and I did as our children were growing up.

One of the fun things we shared with our children was the one-two-three game. Mom held one hand and dad held the other, and we counted together, “One-two-three.” On three the child swung forward in a giant leap. (Whee!!) This would go on until mom or dad was wore out. A neat offshoot of this would be that often our child would voluntarily grab mom and dad’s hands and ask for the one-two-three game. The child was counting without even knowing it AND the child was holding our hands. Soon it was our child who had to do the counting. Then the counting was increased to five or to 10.

Another concept was learning division by “putting away.” If I gave my daughter 18 small boxes and 18 small cars, she put one in each box. But if I gave her six boxes, she would put three in each box. I tried not to give her four or five boxes so that she wouldn’t be frustrated by numbers that did not come out evenly. That came later when we talked about left-overs.

“How many bites” is a game we played at meal time. Our children were expected to eat the food on their plate or at least some of it. “How many bites” was the question, and I might respond “five.” Then we would count. The food was eaten to mom and dad’s satisfaction, and the children started to learn about amounts. It also worked for counting down. It would not be 1-2-3-4-5 bites, but rather 5-4-3-2 and 1 more to go. Having to eat half was dividing the amount into two equal portions: the beginning of fractions.

Using words in pairs helps as well: Backward and forward, up and down, small and large, more or less, and far and close (near) are good examples of pairing words to talk about direction, size, amount, and distance. These are all words that will help in number concepts, estimation, and the number line when introduced by the primary teacher.

Bath time is great for counting. Two eyes, one nose, two ears, one mouth, five fingers per hand with 10 total, same with toes. Hair? Well, that falls into the “lots of them” or “too many” category. One neck, two elbows, two knees, etc.

Another way that numbers were used in our house was with the calendar. On a Wednesday evening, we might be talking about going to the park on Saturday. How many days is that? Thursday (1), Friday (2), and on the third day we will go. We could talk about a total of seven days in a week and “about” four weeks in a month. The “about” is important because it also begins to teach the concept of estimation just like the pairing of words above.

Be inventive. Enjoy your child. He or she will be a teenager before you know it.

— Mark Buss is a full-time math instructor at Ivy Tech Community College Columbus.