Sunday, February 3, 2013

What is mathematics for small kids?

When we think of mathematics, we think of numbers, addition, subtraction, tables etc. But maths is actually much more than that. we need to be sure that our child has mastered his pre-maths skills before getting his head deep into numbers. We must teach pre-maths skills to the child. Also, when we are teaching numbers or any computational skill to the child, we must explain to him the usefulness and need in our day to day life.

Mathematical concepts to be taught to a preschooler:

  1. Shapes: a 3 year old can be easily taught to identify the various simple shapes like circle, squares, rectangle, triangle, star and oval. He can also be taught the 3-D shapes like cubes, cuboids, cylinders and pyramids. To teach 3-D shapes, it’s a good idea to stack up the 2-D shapes and show him how it forms the 3-D ones. Like how 10 circular cardboard pieces stacked tall would make a cylinder. He should be explained the number of sides each figure has and shown the related objects from around the house that he is familiar with. When we show the particular shaped object to him, he understands two things- the shape and the usefulness of its knowledge!
  2. Counting: remembering numbers doesn’t make sense to any child. When we ask him to simply repeat 1-20 he cannot make head or tail out of it. But when we teach numbers through counting real objects to begin with, it does make a lot of sense to the child. So start counting right from the very early days. Count anything to everything, like spoons (when you setting table), stairs (when you are climbing up or down), balls (when you are arranging), toy-cars (when he is playing with them), vehicles on road (when you are travelling together), bogies of train (when you are waiting at the train crossing) etc. Later, move on to counting in print- both objects and number representations- upto 20.
  3. Positions: the child should learn the positional concepts like above and below, inside and outside, left, middle and right, top and bottom, far and near etc. You should teach first using the real objects and people before moving to printed material.
  4. Comparisons: learning maths requires the basic concept of comparisons very clear. For example, more and less, heavy and light, long and short, tall and short, wide and narrow, costly and cheap etc. Again use examples from everyday life before moving onto doing activities in books. Step up on the weighing scale and show him what the pointer indicates. Then tell him to step up and show him his weight. He will learn that 60 kg is heavier than 12 kg. Give him an inch tape and show him how the fridge is 50 cms away from the cupboard, while the oven is only 20 cms away. Thus oven is closer to the cupboard than the fridge is. This also teaches him the concept of measurement.
  5. Patterns and balance: teach him how continuation of a design makes a pattern. Like many Vs put together make a zig-zag pattern. Similarly teach him balance through the concept of symmetrical versus asymmetrical shapes. Like how a pair of trousers is symmetrical and how a cloud is asymmetrical. Patterns and balance give him a very good idea of non-geometric designs.
  6. Basic computation: give him two coins and ask him to return one. Ask him how many does he have remaining. Similarly, give him two biscuits and soon give him two more. Ask him how many he has now. These are some of the easiest ways of teaching that there is something called addition and subtraction.
  7. Sorting and grouping: show him that pizza, chips, curd, rice are all edibles; TV, fridge, computer, oven are all appliances; chair, table, stool, and almirah are all furniture. So food, appliances, furniture etc are called groups and things belong to some group or the other. This will teach him to sort out a cluster of objects into various groups according to the similarity they hold in common.
  8. Time and date: small children have a very vague idea of time. They cannot clearly understand how much is 2 minute or how long is 2 hours or 2 days and which one is shorter. It’s not a bad idea to show them the clock that has big and bold numbers written on it and explain that the short arm indicates the hour and long one indicates the minutes. To teach days and dates, it’s best to use calendars. Have one calendar for him, mark the important dates, teach him to count days before that date etc.

teaching the usefulness of maths:
We are using numbers day in and day out. But our children don’t ‘see’ us doing so. So they doubt the use of learning 1-2-3-4, odd number, even number, multiplication in their text books like crazy. They  need to be given some pre-maths skills first and then shown how we use numbers in our lives continuously.

Let the child feel that numbers are beyond the activity books too. And how numbers are used in our day-to-day life to make things easy for us, like
  1. temperature setting in oven, fridge, AC
  2. time setting in washing machine,
  3. reaching a particular channel on TV
  4. dialling someone’s number on phone
  5. shopping for the correct size of the T-shirt 
  6. measuring height and weight of the family members
  7. measuring two things and understanding if one thing will fit into the other or not
  8. number plates of cars
  9. while ordering for a pizza how many people are there, so how many pizzas should be ordered, how much money should we keep for the delivery boy and so on.

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