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.
Possible posting themes:
I have been checking out some of the children’s books that were published in 2012. Hopefully, I will have a 2012 list in my Workshop Handouts on this site in the next week or so. Also, we have the big children’s book awards coming up on the 28th by the America Library Association and I’m excited to see which books they have chosen. 2012 was a great year for children’s books, at least in my opinion.
I was teaching a little lesson in a first grade classroom last week and used one of the new books I have found called, “Oh, No, George,” by Chris Haughton. It is a fantastic book and is a great way to discuss how sometimes we are so tempted to do something wrong, even when we have promised to be good. The children became instantly involved in the story and loved to say, “Oh no, George!” every time George was tempted. We took the discussion into classroom behavior and how difficult it sometimes is to follow the rules that we promised to follow. The book gives a wonderful example of how George eventually does choose to do what is right.
I have always thought, and continue to think, that books provide a wonderful opportunity to talk about life skills and struggles. A book can create the atmosphere of discussion without preaching. Check out some of the wonderful new books now circulating.
It always intrigues me to watch a young child with his parent or grandparent. The child watches everything that the adult is doing. If at all possible, the child will imitate the adult in an effort to be just like the person that is their protector. As I watched a group of family members show their children how to safely use sparklers to celebrate the holiday yesterday, it was evident that the children were making efforts to follow the examples of the adults. However, the older the child, the less the child seemed to follow the adult direction. Isn’t it interesting what children do as they become more independent. It reminded me again of how fleeting and short these important early childhood years are for those young ones.
The experience also reminded me how vulnerable and delicate our young children are when watching their parent or grandparent. When adults are good examples and at the same time challenge the child to think and create their own answers, a resilient child is created. I remember reading some of the research on Multiple Intelligences that was a theory offered by Howard Gardner. In one of his documents he mentioned how he didn’t want his children to redo the same things that he had done. He wanted them to create new things and new ideas. Being a great example to children and encouraging them to develop thinking skills will help carry these children into a future we can’t predict.
I was struck by an extraordinary thought the other day as I was raking up leaves. We go somewhat overboard with our yard, so every fall we must clean up the falling leaves and dying plants. It’s like a right of passage into winter (whether we want winter to come or not). As I was raking, I thought about how much of our yard will ‘sleep’ for the winter and come alive again in the spring. Each perennial plant will have another chance to grow and flourish, trying to surpass the previous year. I was thinking about how wonderful it would be for children who suffer an emotional or developmental setback to have a spring, where they could have another chance to flourish. Maybe this time, with the right light, water and nourishment, he just might flourish. Then it hit me that every fall when we begin a another school year, a child may have a new ‘spring’ in learning. If a teacher works hard to provide the right amount of nourishment, the child can flourish, even more than the previous year. Even as I watch the new trees I planted begin to grow and spread, that same anticipation should be occurring each school year as we watch our students grow and spread their wings.