This is part two of our Maths for Parent and children series. It focuses on how parents can help their pre-schoolers and kindergarteners learn and love maths. You can catch up with part one.
The approach for the pre-school child and the child in their first years of school is the same, regardless of age or topic. At first, the child is in the dark over the topic under consideration. This is followed by groping and glimmerings of what the process is about, and then it is fully grasped.
There are two kinds of teachers; informational teachers and transformational teachers. A big percentage of teachers, especially in schools, are informational teachers. They lecture. Pupils take notes. Depending on how motivated the teacher is, some level of coaching will happen. Also depending on how well the pupil wants to do in a subject, some level of cramming will be undertaken. Tests are taken. And then immediately the notes are thrown away and most, if not all that was taught, is forgotten.
Our Heavenly Father is a transformational teacher. In His school, notes are written in the pupil’s heart and then translated into other areas of the pupil’s life. The method of teaching is exploration and discovery. Even though He knows how to get you to the answers you need, He guides you with hints and clues because He does not want to rob you of the joy of figuring it for yourself. It is not always easy but patiently He guides and leads us through the maze of challenges and obstacles. Every well-meaning parent would like to be a transformational teacher to their child.
I have this interesting childhood memory of one of my sisters, the youngest of my siblings. She was at the stage when babies are busily bobbing up and down as they make high pitched noises, squealing, whispering, and screaming. They attempt to imitate and experiment with repetitive sounds that include melodic singing. My baby sister had this favourite distinct melodic phrase – e ye ye… e ye ye…two… she’d say and attempt at holding out two fingers. Turns out an older cousin, a young lady at the time herself, was living with us. And if tending to or playing with my sister, she’d hold out two fingers and say to her – igiri… igiri… two… cooing playfully with her; igiri is two in my vernacular language.
Talk to your child. In your everyday conversation remember to include references to number and counting, size and shape, order and so on. Constant repetition in informal situations will help establish number awareness. Therefore parent, in your usual chatter with your child as you go about your daily chores and other activities, keep talking to the child, introducing numerical and mathematical ideas.
For example, when putting the child down for a nap – close your eyes. How many eyes do you have? Two..? One… plus one… is two. You might say demonstrating with your eyes and fingers.
At bath time routine – you have two hands. How many fingers on each hand? This is your left foot. This is your right foot. How many toes on the left foot? Five toes plus five toes makes ten toes. You might say, enumerating them.
Putting on a shirt – today we will start with the left arm. Okay..? Left arm in…right arm in…now let’s do the buttons…; this is a great opportunity to enumerate the buttons as you fasten them – one…? Two…? Three…? Four…? Four buttons. This shirt has four buttons.
Serving an afternoon snack – how many people in the house today? Dad and mum, and your big brother and little sister; and of course there’s you. That’s one, two, and three… four…? Five people… We will have bananas today. Are there enough bananas in the bunch for everyone?
Setting the table for lunch on Saturday – how many places shall we set today? No, not five to…day… dad and your big brother are out. But your friend Niko is visiting. So, how many people in the house today? There’s mum and your little sister, and of course your friend Niko… and you… That’s one, two… three…? Four people… Here are four plates, four folks… four cups…
There is no expectation that the next time the child will remember 5 – 2 or 3 + 1. The same way it takes months for a toddler to master a routine, the constant repetition of numbers in familiar situations will help hasten their understanding of numbers. And as situations arise counting is fostered.
Present the child with a box of M&Ms and ask – what’s your favourite colour? Blue? How many blue M&Ms are there in the box? What colour are the most M&Ms? Are there more blues than reds, your sister’s favourite colour? For the child, this is just a game of ‘which colour do the most M&Ms have? or ‘how many M&Ms each person will get’.
When reading a book or looking at pictures, you can stop at one picture and ask – how many cars are there on the road? How many trees are there in the field? How many birds in the air? Not only does this game aid counting it will also encourage close observation.
Patience is better than pride. Too often because as an adult you have understood a concept for years, you expect the child to do so automatically. If you explain it over and over, and the child still does not comprehend, you lose patience.
Dear parent, it’s a good thing to realize that no amount of coaching, prodding, and nudging, will make the child understand a process or a problem until the child has reached their necessary state of mental maturity.
When you are kind and patient, with genuine humility, your child is likely to follow suit. At the same time, if you are arrogant and impatient, there’s a high probability the child will emulate this too. Remember, in your everyday activities and interactions, you are a mentor to your child.