We have all heard how children’s brain development starts at birth. We have been getting more in tuned to the human body and how we process and grow for many years now, but the biggest concern in my book is that we still are not utilizing this education to enhance our children’s ability to learn to the best of their potential, especially when it comes to math. Talk is a fundamental way children learn, even before they understand what is being said. Children who come from homes where there are a lot of books and where family members talk about what they have read have been shown to have better literacy outcomes in kindergarten and successive grades1. This same principle holds true for mathematics. The more parents talk with their child about math at home, the more a child’s mind is stimulated to think about math.
So the big question that I always here is what math talk is? Math talk is a significant part of your classroom. It is the frequent exchange of mathematical concepts and ideas to help children understand math concepts and problem-solving strategies. Like asking a child to help you count how many children are in line or to have them help you add or subtract specific materials needed for the amount of children that you have in the classroom. Utilizing math words like add, subtract, take away, numbers, equal, shapes. The list could go on and on. It is essential for you as the teacher to help them realize the use of the concepts in real-world situations. Teachers of early education who use numbers in their everyday language can increase their student’s math abilities tremendously by just adding math concepts in their usual conversations.
When you think of teaching math concepts to preschoolers, you may think of counting exercises or other explicit number activities. But new research from the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University suggests that a lot of math learning occurs within the context of classroom play, especially when teachers are talking with children about how to solve problems involving number. Dramatic play and the block area are great ways to enhance math talk through play.
Here are 5 tips to help you grow math talk in your classroom no matter the age.
1. Use Developmentally appropriate math talk. Math talk grows with your child.
Math talk is merely talking to your child about the math that they experience. Here are a few examples for each age and stage.
Infants: When counting with your child even through play is an excellent way to increase the word concept and counting structure. (even as an infant).
Preschoolers: Having children help count the number of children in the room. Think about how many milks need to be put at each table or thinking about how many children are absent are great ways to help children realize everyday math concepts.
2. Look for opportunities to count, subtract, or add.
Count the number of flowers as you walk down the sidewalk to the playground or how many pencils are needed for their friends. Once children are able to add, look for opportunities to allow them to do this. Allow the children to problem solve by putting a bunch of pints of milk at each table and having them take away or add at the tables for the amount of children at the table. Put names on the board for those that want to go next in the center and allow others to count how many are in front of them before they get a turn. Playtime is an essential part of the day that math concepts can be brought up and explained hands on. Talking about how much it is going to be for the food that the children fixed or how many blocks do they have to build their tower.
3. Look for opportunities to problem solve.
This is an excellent opportunity for children in the classroom. There are always many opportunities for children to problem solve whether it be an addition problem or a graphing problem. Children love to problem solve. It increases their cognitive skills as well as their confidence. A great graphing problem we always do is the color of the shoes that we have in the classroom or the colors that we are wearing that day. The children are not only learning skills of counting, but they are also learning about colors and how to graph. They are engaged through the whole process.
4. Ask open-ended questions to sustain math talk as long as possible.
The goal of math talk is to keep the child talking. The more they talk, the more the child is thinking through the process of what is going on. Asking children to help you figure how to solve a problem and allowing them the opportunity to do so is essential. They need to be able to work through a question and find the answer. My daughter will always ask me how much something and something is. I have a habit of saying you tell me. When she says it out loud and thinks about it, she can come up with the answer on her own, and she is problem-solving. I am just there to help her through it if she needs some assistance.
5. Be prepared to take extra time for math talk.
Discussion about something like how many apples we need to buy takes time, but these types of interactions are excellent opportunities for learning.