As I travel the country doing early childhood workshops, I am always very concerned with math instruction. Of course there is a new resurgence of math concentration with the attention given to STEM and STEAM schools. Each organization has it’s own set of mathematics standards. My one large criticism is that sometimes the language used in standards is so academic that I fear many classroom teachers fail to absorb the full impact of the standard. I’m not suggesting we dummy things down, but just make sure that we use language that is usable to the early childhood teacher. I also worry that standards are not often listed in the order that you should introduce them to a child.
Through all of the language of mathematics standards, I think the simplicity of developmentally appropriate math strategies gets lost. I watch many teachers instruct students in a math standard before the child has a solid foundation with which to understand and incorporate that skill. A solid foundation will provide a solid basis for the scaffold of math the child should develop. A good foundation will last throughout time. I recently found the foundation of a dock on the coast of Kauai, where they used to load pineapples. The farming and production ceased long ago, but the foundation of the dock has lasted through time. A math foundation for a child should be just as solid.
I have found that the following developmental steps provide a solid foundation for future math skills:
- Spatial Relationships
- One to one correspondence
- Place value
Each one of the skills listed provides a solid foundation for the skills that comes next. For more information, check out the book, Count on Math by Dr. Pam Schiller or download my conference handout about math on the right side of this blog.
For years I have enjoyed the books written and illustrated by Kevin Henkes, even the volumes that have not been chosen as award winners. His newest picture book, Waiting, is delightful and fun. The waiting theme made me think of the years I was a kindergarten teacher.
Prior to coming to kindergarten, many children experience a strong build-up by family members. Everyone exclaims, “You get to go to kindergarten in the fall. You must be so excited!” The anticipation for a five-year-old must be enormous. More than once, I had a child express concerns after the first few days of kindergarten. “Is this it?” they would say. It always kept me on my toes to make sure that my classroom was an engaging and exciting experience. I knew I had to live up to the big build-up kindergarten had received, because I wanted them to feel, “WOW! This IS it!”
Waiting also made me think about the number of times I have been in classrooms and watched children waiting…Waiting for other children, waiting for the teacher, waiting for their turn, waiting for their snack, etc. We know that when children are not engaged, the chance of them displaying negative behavior goes up dramatically. A smart teacher will be organized enough to minimize any waiting time for their students, especially early childhood age children. Here are a few things that worked in my classroom to help children avoid waiting:
- There was always something to do. Whenever the children were engaged in a project, there were always more activities to do when they finished the planned activity. I often posted picture of each activity on the board so that the children could look up and know what to do next. This way, they never waited for other students to finish.
- There was a procedure for everything. The children knew the procedures for going to the bathroom, getting a drink, getting a sharpened pencil, getting paper, staying put when the teacher was giving directions, etc. I reminded the children often about the procedures and used those reminders as teaching tools.
- “I’m Next” nametags. I created (thanks to a suggestion from my friend, Sharon MacDonald) some nametags that said, “I’m Next.” Whenever taking a turn was the procedure (using the computer, iPad, sand table, play dough table, etc.), I had the child(ren) who would be next wear the necklace. That way they knew they were next and didn’t keep asking me about it. ALSO, the other children in the classroom didn’t waste time waiting, because they knew they were not next.
- A daily visual schedule. I found it important to have a daily schedule posted so the children knew what was coming next. I was always surprised at the number of children who waited for the next activity. I always told the children that we would move to the next scheduled part of the day when we finished the one we were working on. I would give them a signal when we were ready. I do think that this visual reminder gave them a sense of security and a strong feeling that they didn’t need to wait.
There were many other things I did that helped, but these were the main strategies that helped children avoid waiting. I always strived to make my classroom an engaging, joyous environment, where the children were never waiting and the activities met their high expectations for kindergarten.
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One of the challenges of being a parent or a grandparent in 2015 is keeping children from becoming couch vegetables. With all of the electronic gadgets available now, this task has become even more difficult. I watch children all the time whose only interest is playing on electronic toys. Having said that, I don’t want to give the impression that electronics are all bad. Technology may be the future for some of our children and their occupations. What I worry about, however, is that children will lose all passion for anything else in the world. Technology has a tendency to pull children in so that they don’t engage with the rest of the world. This is one of my fears and a challenge I see when parents try to get their children interested in something else. The key is to begin early.
Early childhood developmental stages in children are the perfect opportunity to allow the child to explore many different things. Parents and grandparents should not be consumed with “no messes” or “no time” excuses when children can participate (within reason) in activities to develop their interest or skills. I do understand there are many constraints, but they should be limited to real constraints like lack of money or too much distance to the activity. During my many years of working with children, I have observed children who are uninterested in getting off the couch. Much of the time, those children are the children who haven’t experienced anything else. Summer may be an ideal time to allow exploration since the child may not be in school. Here are a few inexpensive suggestions that encourage children to expand their horizons:
- Pick up a set of watercolors or other painting medium. I’ve heard many parents over the years saying, “Ugh. I don’t want the mess.” My suggestion is to get over it! Messes can be cleaned. The process a child goes through during painting encourages not only creativity, but also critical thinking skills.
- Encourage your child to create projects using discarded home materials such as egg cartons, food boxes, bottle caps, empty paper towel rolls, etc. Glue, tape and scissors will probably be required for this activity.
- Visit the library for books and other activities that are usually scheduled at that facility.
- If there is a farmer’s market close by, take your child there and have him help choose food for meals. There are often other activities and displays at the market, such as art, jewelry, services, etc.
- If affordable for your family, take your child to local festivals and holiday activities. Many festivals offer your child a different cultural experience than she might have at home and in the neighborhood.
- If affordable, allow your child to participate in community sports organizations such as baseball, soccer, gymnastics, basketball, etc. This will give your child an opportunity to see if sports are something that she would like to participate in and continue.
- If it is within you budget, allow your child to take lessons in an area of interest, such piano, gymnastics, karate, art, singing, drama, etc.
Children rarely make make good choices when they have limited experiences. Providing opportunities for trying new things will also help your child develop thinking skills and become willing to try new activities and develop new talents.