Guest Post by George Schalter
Kids like pizza. Whenever a pizza is being shared, parents offer kids a slice of the pizza. Instead, if it were a four slice pizza and we offered them a ‘quarter’ of the pizza, they would be exposed to ‘quarter’ a mathematical term. As kids grow older we could offer them ‘1/4’ of a pizza or if the pizza had 8 slices, 1/8 of a pizza. This is not too hard for parents or caregivers to do. It’s just that we don’t think about talking ‘mathematically’. When we do, there are innumerable ways of doing it. When kids pick up ‘M&Ms’, parents could encourage them to pick them up in ‘twos’ or ‘threes’. Alternatively, they could be encouraged to pick them up in even numbers or odd numbers.
Talking mathematically is not common, but it can easily be made a habit. My mother in fact helped me understand a hypotenuse while crossing a street. When kids carry things, we could make it interesting by discussing weights. Keep counting things; stuff which goes into a bag, on the counter while cooking, people in the next car, clouds in the sky, or even the beans on your plate. Get the kids to stare at clouds and talk about how many small clouds could go into one big cloud. Talk temperature with a thermometer in cold weather. Does it get colder as the number gets smaller? Collect rain. Measure it. Can you count rain drops? How about gum drops instead?!
Pop a bag of corn and talk about volume. Get kids to buy eggs and help them understand a dozen. Melt a solid bar of butter and talk of how a new measure is needed to measure the liquid butter. Get them to maximize their buying (number of things) by giving them some money. Get inventive. This playfulness with numbers in the real world reduces fear when numbers are thrown at them in school as they grow older.
Math Inside Us
All those who have had kids have marvelled at some point about how small babies could be. Their heads fit into our palms. We can envelope both their feet in one palm. We need to develop this same sense of wonder about size in kids. Playing online games or getting kids to solve puzzles can be fun for kids, but sometimes a practical real world activity can leave a great impression on young minds. Two things to try:
- Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man is a great example for talking proportions with kids. (Do remember that kids have longer arms until they are fully grown.) Kids can measure an adult with a tape to see if DaVinci’s sketch is true to life. Some help can be had from here, and if it’s too complicated, just use the essentials and leave out the rest.
- Measure a short distance in the strides of an adult and a child, and then discuss why we need a common measuring scale for distances.
Math Around Us
The world around us comprises of two parts – nature provided and made by man. The beauty of Mathematics is the way it envelopes us and flows into the crevasses of our lives. Nature has math in every weave. Fibonacci sequences in flowers are the most popular; though not as clean as we expect, a mathematical pattern exists. Mathematical sequences can be observed in the way molluscs grow. The beehive too is a great example of efficient geometries that nature utilizes to store honey. As we see building humans have built, draw attention to interesting things. Kids could start with counting columns, rafters or tiles. Then they could spot symmetry in building, bridges, floors etc. Talk about how deep a building goes to anchor it, in comparison to how deep a tree’s root goes. Kids are observant, but it helps if we draw their attention and talk about it.
The trick is to get kids comfortable with numbers and their associated concepts. If they don’t understand it one way, their mind works it out in a different way. As parents, we need to stop being afraid of math, for this might put the seed of math fear into a child’s head. It’s our job as parents to get our kids to go bravely into the world of mathematics.
George Schalter (Twitter) loves being a dad. He and his wife share the joys and responsibilities of bringing up their two children. As believers of good all round education, they spend a lot of time playing with their children and spending time outdoors. As George is the writer in the family, he blogs at Educational Kids Games.