Just the other day I was in the kitchen and Owen, my 4 year old, wanted a snack. I make it a habit to always offer a fruit or vegetable first, so I grabbed the baby carrots from the fridge and asked “How many carrots do you want?” More often than not, Owen’s answer lately has been 4, because he is 4. This time, however, he asked for 8. I happened to grab 10 out of the bag; I figured I’d eat any he didn’t finish. When I put them in front of him, I thought this would be a great opportunity to practice some mathematical word problems. This is something my husband had introduced to my oldest when she was just 3 years old and she excels in math. Sometimes we forget to implement these same practices with a 2nd or 3rd child. But, it was just me and Owen in the kitchen with no older siblings to jump in with the answer and take away from his opportunity to figure it out.
“How many carrots do you have?” Owen counted them out carefully pointing at each carrot and smiled at me with his answer.
“How many carrots did you ask for?” I asked. He replied, “Eight.”
By now he had already begun eating his first carrot and I had grabbed one too. Then I asked if he knew how many extra I had given him. Looking at the baby carrots on the table and knowing one was in his belly and mine was just about gone, he began to count on his fingers and thumbs to figure this out. It was a fun observation to watch him find an alternate way to solve the problem all on his own. He eventually figured out that I had given him 2 extra. We played out a few other word problems using his carrots and sometimes he used the carrots as instruments to come up with the answer, and other times he used his fingers and thumbs to count out his answer. In either case I was witnessing how the tactile experience was what helped him conclude his answer.
Owen has always been fascinated with signing the numbers, at least 1 through 5. He learned in preschool the common way that kids learn to count to five, which contradicted the way I had shown him in ASL. At least the number THREE, so I’ll show you how to count to ten in sign, and share a great tip in this video.
Teachers agree that children who are encouraged to use their fingers to solve simple math problems have math concepts stick better. Part of that may be that it is visual, part of it may be that it is tactile. Either way, teachers now know that this is an effective tool for their students and not to discourage it. Children who sign are already accustomed to using their hands to convey ideas and concepts. So, could it be argued that signing with children makes them stronger in math? I believe so.
What ways do you incorporate math into your children’s activities?