Monday, October 8, 2012

Crafty Ways to Sneak in Math Principles

Today, I'm taking a detour from baby sign language to share some fun information from the book I co-authored with Dr. Susan Goodwyn, Baby Minds.

Given the choice, almost all of us, no matter our age, would choose to play a game or bake cookies or fly a paper airplane rather than sit down in front of a teacher for a formal lesson in math basics. Fortunately, savvy parents can take advantage of these more enjoyable activities—and others—to help their young children start appreciating the principles behind numbers, shapes, and even fractions. Here are some examples:

Board Games: Old favorites like “Chutes & Ladders” and “Candyland” require children to recognize the number when they spin the pointer and then to count off squares. In doing so, they practice the sequence of number names and get a concrete lesson in the quantity that each number represents. The added benefit is that the child is highly motivated to pay attention, not only to the number squares she moves but also to any mistakes her partner might make. As a result, a single game of Chutes & Ladders can yield a total of 30 or more lessons in number recognition and counting—without your child ever suspecting you had an ulterior motive!

Card Games: Simple games like “Go Fish” can introduce young children to numbers. Even if they don’t know the number names yet, they can hold up a card that represents what they want (“Do you have any of these?”) and the other player can name it (“Oh, you want to know if I have any 5s.”). “Go Fish” also requires kids to compare cards in their hand in order to put sets down on the table. (Tip: For very young children, limit the deck to cards 1 through 5, gradually increasing the number as they get older.)

Cooking: Making cookies has the potential to expose kids to lots of important math basics. For example, measuring teaches “more” vs. “less” and fractions. Sorting the cookies into equal numbers to “share” teaches equivalence. Baking teaches about time.

Paper Folding Activities: Start appreciating the mathematical nature of traditional activities like wrapping presents, making paper airplanes, and cutting snowflakes from folded paper. In each case, your child is being challenged to visualize how a flat piece of paper relates to its folded version.

Sewing: Simple sewing project (using glue instead of needles and thread) require spatial skill. Pieces of cloth must be measured, cut, and put together correctly. In fact, there’s nothing like discovering that a seam is on the outside instead of the inside to remind you how important it is to think through spatial relationships carefully. For a first project, try the following: Take two equal-sized pieces of cloth, help your child glue them together on 3 sides, fill this “envelope” with stuffing, and glue up the final side. Result? Not only a handmade pillow of which she can be proud, aut also an early lesson in area versus volume!

So, pull out those board games, mixing bowls, and pieces of paper and start sneaking in math knowledge in ways that are fun for everyone!

Happy Signing (and don’t forget to visit us on Facebook)!


Linda Acredolo, Ph.D.
Professor Emeritus, UC Davis
Co-Founder, The Baby Signs® Program
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