Young children are motivated to explore mathematical concepts they encounter in their everyday interactions with the world. Through these interactions, they develop a range of informal understanding of numbers including ideas of more or less and one-to-one correspondence. For example, a child as young as two knows if she gets more or less crackers than her friend next to her. She also exhibits her basic understanding of one-to-one correspondence when she insists on getting a cookie because her brother had one and she had none. Such intuitive understandings of number sense may help lay the groundwork for later understandings of numerical equivalence and operations, such as addition and subtraction. While serving as important building blocks, such understanding does not necessarily help young children explicitly examine and interpret their experiences in mathematical forms. So, how do we help young children make connections from these informal knowledge around numbers to a deeper, more concrete understanding of numbers?
Helping children recognize math in the real world and finding everyday math activities at home is a great way for parents to reinforce young children’s developing number sense. For example, when you are setting your table for breakfast, ask your child to join you. You can ask them how many plates do you need to set the table or whether you have enough eggs for everyone or not. While they are taking the plates from the cabinet, encourage them to count. When young children practice counting, they’re also learning one-to-one correspondence. A child that understands one-to-one correspondence knows that 4 plates equals 4 or that 5 eggs equals 5. To help them practice this concept, give your children large groups of objects to count. For example, you are making a strawberry cake for dessert and you only need 10 strawberries. You may ask your child to help you figure out whether you have enough strawberries or not. As they are practicing this skill, children may count some of the strawberries twice and/or skip counting some of them. Therefore, it is important to closely observe your child as she is counting. When she is double-counting some of the strawberries, does she realize what she has done? Does she self-correct? In such instances, resist the temptation of correcting them. Instead, ask her to double-check her answer and give them enough time to check their work and self-correct their mistakes. If she is struggling, provide them with some strategies she can use(e.g., moving strawberries to a different pile as she counts).
Taking this kind of approach not only allows children to see math as fun, but also helps them see numbers as useful tools that they can use to make sense of the world around them. While doing these kinds of activities, the most important thing you can do is to help your child see math is something that makes sense and it is practical and enjoyable. This will help your youngsters to build a strong understanding of math and develop a love of learning math that will last a lifetime.