As I write this blog on a hot, sultry day in July, I can’t help but wonder what my friends in education are doing during their final days of summer vacation. Are they relaxing by a pool? Are they at the beach? Are they vacationing somewhere in the United States or abroad? Are they attending to the list of “To Do’s” they were not able to accomplish during the school year? Or are they preparing for the upcoming year?
I also wonder about all the children that I had the opportunity to work with this past year. How did they spend their summer? Did they get to go swimming? Did they spend time at the beach? Did they get to go on a family vacation somewhere wonderful? Did they have opportunities to engage in rich play, whether at home with their families or in a day care environment? More importantly, I wonder if they were engaged in any informal experiences that may have afforded them key mathematical knowledge foundational to their future academic achievement.
You may be asking yourself why I am wondering about these things. Well, I recently spent a few days rereading a chapter entitled “The Developing of Young Children’s Early Number and Operation Sense and Its Implications for Early Childhood Education” based in part on a keynote given by one of the authors, Arthur Baroody, at the Lesley University Early Childhood Institute in November of 2003.
In this chapter, Baroody and his co-authors, Meng-lung Lai & Kelly S. Mix, discuss many key points, two of which I wish to highlight.
Mathematical Learning Begins Early. Counting experiences are related to the richness of a number sense and play a key role in extending children’s understanding of number beyond the intuitive. Research suggests that practice in meaningful counting activities leads to improved performance on logical tasks as well as number tasks (Payne & Hinkler, 1993).
Informal Knowledge as a Foundation for School Knowledge. There is a large body of research that indicates that the quality and quantity of children’s informal experiences and knowledge is a key foundation for mathematical achievement in schools (Dowker, 1998; Ginsburg et al., 1998; Kilpatrick et al, 2001). Additionally, the amount of time parents spend engaging their children in number related activities in the home has a positive effect on children’s numerical knowledge. In this way, the quality of child care is at least modestly predictive of long-term mathematical achievement (Broberg, Wessles, Lamb & Hwang, 1997; Peisner-Feinberg et al., 2001; Roth, Carter, Ariet, Resick, & Crans, 2000).
Research has shown that mathematical achievement gaps have been noted as early as first grade and historically the importance of informal mathematical knowledge has been overlooked.
As I read, images of children whom I’ve worked with over the course of the year kept coming to mind, especially those who are moving on to Kindergarten. So, for those children who demonstrated mathematical competence and saw themselves as doers of math (mathematicians), I wonder if over the summer their confidence flourished, remained stagnant, or declined.
In the words of Skakuntala Devi, “Without mathematics there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.” Thus, it is imperative that our youngest of learners be afforded opportunities to engage in the mathematics that surrounds them every day.