Maths would appear to be one of those subjects that you can either do, or you can't, some love it whilst other hate it. Marcus de Sautoy is Professor of Maths at Oxford University, he LOVES maths and he's brilliant at it! He is one of those people who can explain really complex ideas in ways that ordinary people can begin to understand. In 2006, he delivered the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, bringing accessible maths to an audience of school aged children.
In one of his TV documentaries, de Sautoy distilled maths into a single, basic concept - the study of patterns. Our ability to discover patterns (whether in abstract numerical groups or physical real world objects) leads us to being able to solve problems, a fundamental reason for learnbing maths. While we usually think of maths as the adding and subtracting of numbers, numbers merely act a labels to more abstract concepts.
Of course, this is a vast oversimplification of maths, but it's premise is in fact and not fiction.
EYFS 2012 introduced Mathematics as one of the 'Specific Areas', breaking down further into Numeracy and Shapes, space and measures. While the specific areas are aimed at older and more develeoped children, you can be sowing the seed for good numeracy early on by encouraging that great foundation of maths - pattern recognition. Babies can learn and spot patterns from a very early age and evidence suggests that stimulating these skills early on will assist numeracy skills during their early years.
Play games that encourage pattern matching such as pairing cards, playing memory games, grouping items into 'classes' and counting items in collections. All of this will encourage cognitive development that will assist numeracy in their early years.
As grown-ups, it's easy to take for granted how easy counting is, but for a young toddler, learning to count is more than just learning a sequence of words as they might a nursery rhyme. Counting involves being able to make a connection between numbers as words and a quantity of items.
This is called 'Cardinal Principle' and an elementary rule states that when you count a number of objects, the number of items in total is the last word spoken as you count them. For example, if there are five apples on a table: 'One' - 'Two' - 'Three' - 'Four' - 'Five'. 'Five' was the last number encountered, therefore there are five apples. This principle seems perfectly obvious to the developed mind, but this is one of the fundamental connections to make when learning to count for the first time.
Toddlers don't need to count items if there are three or fewer - they can look at them and establish how many there are. No counting is required.
New research undertaken at the University of Chicago has discovered that children who are exposed more to the numbers between 3 and 10 as words make the connection between numbers and counting, and understand quantities sooner than children who hear those numbers less in everyday language.
Whilst this might seem an obvious conclusion, it reiterates the importance simply of counting objects over and over with children from an early age, and also of talking about quantities in everyday language.
Exposure to numerical language also helps improve mathematical capabilities later on in life which is much less obvious. So by undertaking counting exercises regularly, not only are you teaching your children to count, but you are also improving their chances of doing well at maths later, which in turn might have a direct influence on their career path way ahead in the future!
Maths and counting and numbers may not be your preferred subject and it may bring back memories of dreading the maths lessons as school and struggling over homework, but it doesn't have to be like that! While hard sums are a long way down the line for our children, it's a great idea to get them in the swing of counting and using numbers, even when they are small, so they are confident when they get older. It will serve as vital building bock for future maths.
Here are a few simple way of incorporating numbers, counting and sums into your toddler's life. You'll see how easy it is!
- Count together at every opportunity: Count when drying toes and fingers, when marching up stairs, when passing trees, when stepping along the road to nursery, when passing cars in the street. Make it something you do at least once on every outing! It needn't be counting to 100; just to 10, and then 20, is a great start.
- Sort things: Arrange things in order and sort into groups. Mix coloured bricks or trains and cars and ask them to sort them into piles. All yellow bricks here and all red bricks there! Sort the washing together, sort the food after shopping: fruit here and vegetables here.
- Cooking: Make a cake together and mix in spoonfuls of raisins or cherries, measure and mix together to make a delicious cake. Or simply cut vegetables and count a few for each person at dinner.
- Shapes: Go round the house naming shapes, or when out for a walk spot things that are a particular shape: rectangle letter box, round, sign, square garage.
- Compare Size: Find the big book and the small book. Ask which is widest, which is longest? Sort books or other objects into size order.
- Patterns: Teach patterns and talk about patterns. Sort coloured blocks and make patterns with them or look at patterns on clothing or in books.
- Bath time: Even in the bath measure and pour water into little jugs. Talk about full and empty.
Making learning fun is the fundamental ideal of ToucanLearn, it's fun and learning for you and your little ones!
Maths for toddlers isn't difficult numbers and hard sums... it is much more fun than that!
Take a box of sand, some old cartons or tubes such as toothpaste cartons, little cereal packets, or stock cube boxes. Take some spoons such as tea spoons, wooden cooking spoons, dolly sized spoons. Ask you little ones to fill the tubes and boxes with their hands and with the spoons. Then get them to empty the contents or transfer from one box to another. Show them how to do it. Make piles of sand, squash the sand and fill the boxes. Then, ask them:
- Which box is the biggest, the fattest, the tallest?
- Which holds most?
- Which spoon holds most sand?
- Which spoon is best to fill the big box or the small box?
- Ask which is heavier and how they feel when full and empty?
- Explore and play together
This is the beginning of learning about mass and weight... its also great fun!