Math Lenses and Power Chats
Now, remember that our intent is not to push academic, primary work down into preschool but to take advantage of the early years for giving children early, hands-on experiences that will lead to deep understandings of some of the basics before the primary grades. Why not start now by putting on your math lenses as you look around a room? Then, seek out opportunities to engage a child in a “power-chat” incorporating math ideas. Also remember that not every verbal exchange about numbers is necessarily powerful, and a power-chat should raise the child’s level of thinking but should not be on a level that is too high. Here are some possible topics.
- Counting Teach children the number sequence and help them learn to count objects accurately. Begin with a small number of things and then add more. Counting things, of course, leads naturally to addition and subtraction — “We’ve counted four blackberries on this plate, and now I’ll give you two more. How many are there now?”
- Shapes Identify basic shapes by name (circle, triangle, rectangle, square); talk about what they look like; and then talk about their properties (number of sides, corners, square corners, etc.).
- Location Describe locations specifically, relative to objects and people. Don’t use gestures and say, “It’s over there.” Rather, use position words such as on; under; beside; between; high/low; inside/outside; upstairs/downstairs; front/back; near/far, etc. For example say, “Your stuffed bear is on the blue chair between the table and the window,” or “Your father is upstairs in the front bedroom” or “There are two chairs at the far end of the table.”
- Time Clocks, both digital and analog, are around us everywhere. Whenever you have the opportunity, connect the verbal expression of the time with the digital reading or the appearance of the clock’s face (positions of hands). Use the many opportunities for viewing a calendar to connect this structured, visual image with events of our lives — past, present, and future.
- Money Encourage children to play with coins frequently and to understand the values of the coins (1 dime is the same as 10 pennies or 2 nickels; and 4 quarters is a dollar). In today’s world, the use of coins and paper money has been mostly replaced by credit cards, but concrete experiences with money build conceptual understandings of the symbols on cash register receipts. When you go places with young children, carry a plastic bag of various coins that the child can play with and you can talk about if an opportunity arises.
- Data Analysis Collect data by questioning children or observing things together. Then, interpret the results mathematically. You might interpret information about preferences or differences within a group of children and/or adults. For example, after questioning 6 children, you might say, ” How interesting! Four of you have an older brother or sister and two of you do not.”
- Probability Talk about events in terms of their general probability (likely, unlikely, certain, impossible).
After reading this list several times, try some conversation openers a situation arises. Also, I would greatly appreciate it if you would reply to me with comments and questions. Go to the “Three Reasons to Start Early with Math” page to learn more about the research on early childhood mathematics education.