As I walked around the building this morning I was reminded of the volume of mathematical learning that goes into the days following Halloween.
In addition to the shear task of counting the candy they received while Trick or Treating, many children spent time identifying, sorting, classifying, comparing, and contrasting their candy haul by different attributes. I’m sure many of you can attest to how your child grouped the candy in a variety of ways: by brand, by size, by most favorite, by least favorite, and by style (i.e. candy bars vs. fruit snacks vs. lollipops). Perhaps your child talked about the candy using mathematical language such as some, more, less, different, and same. Learning about mathematical concepts is easy and fun – especially when it is relevant and connects to candy.
The goal of teaching mathematical concepts in our preschool program is to foster children’s understanding of number sense while simultaneously nurturing their confidence and competence. That sense of I CAN DO THIS! when thinking about math. Educational researchers refer to this sense of competence as “Mathematical Power.” This power has three components: a positive disposition to learning and using mathematics; understanding and appreciating the importance of mathematics; and engaging in the process of mathematical inquiry. It’s not quite the equivalent to: Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap single buildings in a single bound… But a child’s feeling of power is important and Mathematical Power impacts all aspects of life.
In our preschool program, we recognize the critical importance that teachers play in building children’s sense of mathematical power and in doing so we provide meaningful and intentionally designed learning experiences that build children’s understanding of number and mathematical concepts. We strive to help children build a strong foundation for understanding how numbers work, and what numbers and mathematical thinking means. We integrate mathematics into all that we do – all day, every day. It’s part of our free play time (the block area can have 4 children in it at one time), our routines are sequenced (first we have morning meeting, next we have learning time, and after snack we go outside), and part of our daily learning experiences – whether specifically focused on a math activity, or not. SHAZAM!
Additionally, we understand that children learn best when they can touch, do, move, and construct with materials. In the classroom we have lots and lots of materials that the children can use for math focused activities. These materials are often called “manipulatives.” A collection of buttons is a common manipulative used in classrooms and provide endless opportunities. Children sort them by color, then by shape, then by size. Then we go deeper, looking at less obvious attributes such as the number of holes in the buttons or the shade of the color.
During this type of work, we also do plenty of Mathematical Power building exercises – like counting. However, rote counting doesn’t add up to math. What’s really important when counting is to emphasize the concept of one-to-one correspondence. One-to-one correspondence is the foundational concept of understanding numbers, and specifically, that numbers are composed of individual parts that can be manipulated. This means that we understand, for example, that the number 5 is composed 5 individual parts and if you take one away you have 4 and if you add 3 you have 8. This seems simple to us because as adults we’ve figured it out. However, it is often difficult for children to grasp. It is critical that children understand this concept deeply because without it, later work in mathematics such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division do not make sense.
Our teachers intentionally ensure that we are building a strong foundation for the conceptual components of mathematical thinking in all that they do. Take a look around the next time you visit your child’s classroom. You’ll see that numbers are everywhere and part of everything we do – it’s natural, structured, and intentional teaching. It’s your child’s Mathematical POWER!