We already know our kids pick up plenty of things they hear adults say (for better or worse). Here’s a flip side to that coin that all caregivers should hear loud and clear: your toddlers might be learning essential math skills if you’re saying the right things to them during playtime.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. No flash cards are required, and it’s not necessary to have a degree in mathematics. You don’t need a tutoring program or even pricey video programs.
You need your voice and a few simple words, used at the right time. Sounds like magic, doesn’t it?
Pre-Math Magic, One Shape at a Time
Parents who explain objects to their children in terms of their spatial relationships (such as sizes and shapes, and the characteristics of those shapes), have kids who develop better pre-math skills, who were also better at solving spatial problems as preschoolers.
The latest research from the University of Chicago proves that words related to math concept are serious tools in preparing children for mathematical thinking. The earlier caregivers do this, and the more often they use these terms, the better. Here’s how they tested their theory.
The study focused on the usage of words by both children and their parents that describe spatial concepts. In over 13 hours of recorded time, parents used between 5 and 525 spatial words – the average was 167 spatial words. They measured the same use of spatial words in children and discovered a similar range.
Those children who used the most words to describe spatial terms had caregivers who did the same.
A mom who, while playing with her youngster, describes the shape of a block, how it’s different from other shapes, and how her child uses it, greatly influences her child’s ability to mentally manipulate shapes later on. These are pre-math skills, and grow as her child grows. What’s more, they relate to pre-reading skills. It’s a win-win situation.
What it Means for Non-Educators
Preschool teacher Tiffany Gould breaks down the importance of these skills, particularly in very young children.
“Pre-math skills are ones early childhood teachers teach to very young children (think age 3-4) to provide a foundation for higher math skills,” explains Gould. “For example, pre-k kids typically learn things such as one-to-one correspondence (matching the number “2” to a picture of two blocks), sorting, shapes, basic counting, number sequence, etc. Pre-writing is the same idea: learning the alphabet and the shapes of the letters before actually learning to write words and sentences.”
It’s a huge argument for getting children back to basics and encouraging manipulative play time, because it’s learning time, too. It’s also proof that parents encourage the development of pre-math skills by verbalizing what’s happening as they play.
I asked Montessori teacher Andrea Coventry how this style of teaching helps promote the development of pre-math schools through special emphasis on spatial terminology.
“The Montessori sensorial materials are rooted in the base ten system,” explains Coventry. “Size correlates to numbers. Manipulation through tactile means creates a concrete foundation for abstract learning both with and without the same materials through the elementary years.”
Add descriptive spatial terms to the mix, and students will benefit with a boost in early math skills. If children learn while they play, the lessons stick. If a caregiver adds a math component, such as spatial descriptions, you’re giving them yet another boost.