Thursday, July 14, 2011

Math Power: Part 1...Review and Preschool Activities

Just read an interesting book. (Surprise, surprise... I know! :)) It was Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math, Even If You Don't by Patricia Clark Kenschaft.

Here's my review from Goodreads:
This isn't a book you can pick up and read in one sitting, and while written for parents, I would guess that many parents wouldn't read it all. But she raises a lot of good points, particularly about testing and the negative consequences of testing (and this was written BEFORE No Child Left Behind!). I appreciated that while she had plenty of criticism for public education, she tried to treat teachers fairly and point out the many difficulties of being a public school teacher. In addition, I really believe that in some areas we have made good progress...some of her complaints no longer seem true... (while others are still right on!) She also gives some good, concrete ways that parents of younger children (preschool-elementary) can really help their children gain math skills and help them see math as fun and engaging...which I think it is or can be!! I also really thought that she raised a good point when talking about math phobia/math incompetence. Almost no one would proudly state that they "never did learn to read" and yet in our society, it seems perfectly okay to say that you "never were any good at math" or "never did understand ______ (algebra/geometry/or whatever)." She also discussed how in nearly every other country in the world, if you ask people what it takes to be good in math, they talk about hard work and effort and determination. Here, a lot of people talk about having parents who were good at math, having good teachers, being "born" with the ability....people think it is based on genes and teaching rather than the child's hard work.

Wish I could photocopy her chapters on testing to give to my administrator/district officials/state legislators/national leaders/etc.

Wish I could copy her chapters on games/math work for preschoolers and children for all the parents of my students as well as all my friends that have young kids. It did give me what I think/hope is a good idea for this coming year at school...and has made me more cognizant of ways I can foster math in my own home. :)

As I mentioned in my review on Goodreads, there was a lot to think about in this book. I especially think that it is important for all of us to understand that if you want to be good at something, you have to work hard at it. Yes, good math teachers are critical...but ultimately, the teacher can only do so much if the child is not willing to put in effort.

I do think there have been some positive trends in the teaching of math since this book was published in 1997. I know that at my school we spend a lot of time teaching kids multiple strategies for solving problems, encourage them to invent their own strategies or use the method that works best for them, ask them to talk about how they solved problems and why they did what they did, and use a lot more manipulatives and engaging activities than my teachers did when I was growing up. In many ways we are headed in a better direction. (Unfortunately, I also think that in many ways the testing frenzy our nation is under is doing a lot of harm and little or no good.)

But enough of that. I did think it would be nice to share some of the ideas from her book (plus a few of my own) on how parents can foster a love of math in their children. So many of the ideas are easy to implement and can be done by anyone and would have long lasting impacts on your children's feelings toward math...and hopefully would also help them be more successful.

So ideas for preschool aged kids:

1. Say nursery rhymes. Many nursery rhymes have counting and numbers built in. (Such as 1,2 Buckle My Shoe...etc.)
2. Play games. Lots of games include counting and simple adding and subtracting... games like Chutes and Ladders, Candyland, etc.
3. Give your kids blocks and other building toys. This teaches them spatial sense, shapes, etc. which will help with geometry. You can get fancy pattern blocks that have hexagons, trapezoids, triangles, etc. but you can also get wooden or foam or other blocks.
4. Dominoes and face playing cards teach kids to recognize numbers in a pattern and face cards can be used for tons of math games. (You can also just make your own cards with cardstock by writing the number and adding dots on the card like a domino would have.)
5. Count people in line at the store, count how many fingers and toes, count how many french fries on his plate.
6. Have your child be the one to pass out the grapes or the cookies, making sure that everyone gets a fair share. (This is division! :))
7. Read books that include math. There are literally hundreds available. Want some lists or recommendations? Check out these sites: Children's Picture Books or Barb's books or Pragmatic Mom. There are probably loads of other lists as well out there on the web. In my classroom, I have a list organized by math topic that has well over 200 books on it.
8. As you take a walk or play in the house, do a shape hunt. Can you find squares? Rectangles? Triangles? Circles? Hexagons?... or look for solids... can you find cubes? Cylinders? Cones?...etc.
9. After your child can consistently count to 10, you can start adding with your fingers (or simple objects). Hold up 2 fingers on 1 hand and 3 fingers on the other and ask how many fingers. After they say five, say, "Yes, 2 plus 3 equals 5." You're beginning to teach addition and also helping them gain math vocabulary.
10. Buy puzzles. They also develop beginning math skills and spatial awareness. (Plus, some puzzles include shapes, maps of the US and other things they might gain some additional knowledge from.)

**Most important thing though is that as a parent, your job is to make math fun. Particularly at the preschool age, it doesn't really matter if your child masters these skills. If they don't want to play right now, stop the game. If they get the wrong answer, don't stress about it. You might ask them (whether they get the right answer or not) to explain how they did it. They might have a great strategy for solving that you might never have thought of...or they might have some small confusion that you can help them clear up. But make it fun!