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.
There is a lot of buzz right now about STEM schools. Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are given high priority at these schools. I think it is the current evolution of concentrating on science and math (which has been a focus of discussion for the 35+ years I have been in education).
Because of modern advancements, technology and engineering have also been given a seat at the same table. As I was reading an article recently about STEM in preschool (Stem Comes to Preschool, Exploring Science: Spotlight on Young Children. 2013, NAEYC), I again was convinced that the critical thinking support we offer to young children is essential for them to be successful in STEM educational programs. Children are naturally interested in science and technology. With the right type of materials and support, their interest in constructing and engineering will also be evident. I have found from my years of teaching, that children are usually interested in mathematical principles at an early age.
But, for some reason, math becomes a negative and unsuccessful experience for many people. Unsuccessful experiences can come in any of these four areas if a child is not given strong support during the early childhood years. At the conclusion of the article mentioned above, the author states, “…regardless of ability, young children are ready, willing, and able to engage in STEM activities.” The key factor here, however, is making sure the teachers are ready with appropriate teaching techniques and materials.
What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your comments and insight in the comments section below.