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.
I have been taking watercolor classes to try to expand my hobbies beyond the limited experiences I have had in the past. We were recently painting animals and I did a picture of a blue horse. Actually, a black horse that shadows and light create the illusion of being blue. One of my fellow students painted the same horse. When she sent a picture of it to her parents in China, her father said, “Why is the horse blue? Horses aren’t blue!” Even for this adult, the criticism was hurtful and unnecessary.
This experience reminded me of the many times I had parent question a project their child had completed. We often curtail or limit a child’s creativity by expecting everything to be real-life or understandable. I vividly remember having a discussion with a parent about her kindergarten child’s project. Carl had drawn a wonderful picture of the park and had made an attempt to write a couple of words underneath the picture. Of course the words were not spelled correctly and actually needed a bit of translation by Carl to understand. His mother was stressed about the fact the words were not spelled correctly. I tried to remind her that Carl was in kindergarten and the words he was attempting were not words that a kindergartner could spell. I emphasized the fact that the very idea that he had made an attempt at words (“I can write down my words!”) was outstanding and he was to be commended. She didn’t agree that he should be commended when it was incorrect. The whole purpose of the activity was to get Carl to explore, not to get him to write advanced words correctly.
Somehow, we adults need to look past correctness and applaud the creativity and thinking experiments of the children around us. There will be time for correctness during academic instruction, but when a child is exploring we must do everything in our power to encourage that exploration. The whole business model right now is about “thinking outside the box.” No one has ever been able to think outside the box unless they were encouraged to explore and develop their own thinking skills.
We don’t know what the world will be like, exactly, when our young children are adults and going into the workforce, yet we are supposed to be educating them to be prepared. One thing that is certain is that the future generation will need to think. The world is already rewarding people who can think and create, and that doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon. I hope each one of us can celebrate the blue horses that are produced by children and celebrate their creative accomplishments.
It is back to school time again! In fact, some classrooms are already up and running for the new school year. Last year at this time, I posted a blog entry about 10 things to remember when setting up and classroom. To access that list, scroll down to my blog entry dated, July 31, 2014. It contains a great list of things that I tried to remember as I set up my classroom each year during my 25 years of teaching.
I am supervising ten interns this year instead of student teachers. I was visiting their classrooms recently and since they have their own classrooms (no cooperating teacher), they requested help in organizing information to share with parents. This year I thought I would post some suggestions to pass along to parents. I think this content would be a great parent letter home or a nice list to share when the families visit the classroom.
How Parents can Support Classroom Learning
- Always make positive comments about the classroom and the school. Saying negative things about school gives your child the message that school is not a good place to be and he/she does not need to respect the classroom. If you have concerns, please speak with the teacher directly and solve the problem.
- Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep and a good breakfast. Being rested and having proper nutrition helps a child think. Your child’s brain cannot function well when it is not rested and supported with proper nutrition and water for hydration.
- Read to your child. Research indicates that children who are read to, simply know more. Being read to is such a good model for learning to read and understanding new words and other important information about our world. Children who have been read to are almost always further ahead in reading and math when they attend school.
- Ask the teacher for activities to help your child at home. Early childhood children are building the foundation for all of their lifelong learning. Ask the teacher for suggestions on how to help support your child’s learning at home. Often the teacher will send home suggestions. Don’t hesitate to ask for more suggestions or for a clarification of the teacher’s suggestions.
- Please follow through on all concerns. If the teacher or school contacts you about a concern with your child’s behavior or learning, please support your child by helping to make the situation better. The best support is to not get defensive or take your child’s side against the teacher or the school. Remember that your child’s behavior is developing. Negative behavior in early childhood can get worse and become magnified as the child gets older. The best time to help your child learn appropriate behavior is now. You don’t want your child to suffer continually from negative behavior for the rest of his life. Help your child take responsibility for inappropriate behavior and work together on improving it.
According to many research studies, the number one factor for a child’s success in school is the involvement of her family. When the family members are supportive and place importance on school, the child has the most supportive environment in which to learn.