Spring is just around the corner and families will soon begin enjoying more outside activities such as walks, picnics, and working on the yard. Our world is a giant playground but statistically, children are spending less time outside than when their parents were children. What can parents, grandparents, caretakers, and early learning staff do to promote early math skills and have fun through outside play?
Typically, young children do not want technology gadgets as much as just spending quality time with caring adults. Incorporating math through play does not take a large amount of time, effort, or money. Outside activities do not require additional items to purchase. What can you do to develop the number word sequence? Count. Count EVERYTHING. JUST COUNT. Notice and compare things, talk, ask questions, listen and make sure that these short spurts of early math concepts are done through play and not the old rote counting without purpose or fun. “Let’s count six leaves into a cup.“ “Let’s see how many blue (red, white, green, black, etc.) cars we see in the grocery store parking lot.” Keep a large dice in the car or on the patio for those spontaneous moments to have fun with your child(ren). Roll the dice and jump, hop, clap, cluck like a chicken, moo like a cow, or blow bubbles the number of times indicated on the dice.
In 2014, the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences published Teaching Math to Young Children, a practice guide to offer evidence-based recommendations on topics related to teaching early math to children ages 3-6 years old. Here are some highlights:
- Provide opportunities to recognize small collections (1-3 items) without needing to count. Promote one-to-one counting – count with a purpose of knowing the total. Compare quantities.
- Help children to recognize, name, and compare shapes, and then provide opportunities for them to combine and separate shapes; encourage children to look for and identify patterns and to extend patterns; collect and organize information through simple pictures (simple graphs).
- Use introductory activities and observation to determine the child’s math knowledge and tailor the experience as it relates to the child’s existing knowledge. Basically, know where the child is and build from that foundation.
- Help children to view and describe their world mathematically. When outside, use open-ended questions to prompt children to apply their math knowledge and encourage children to recognize and talk about math in everyday situations.
- Dedicate time each day to providing math opportunities, and integrate math play throughout the day. Try embedding math play in the routines and daily activities, and use games to allow children to learn and practice new concepts.
Enjoy the great spring weather and remember to “Do the Math!”