Counting is probably where most providers feel comfortable, but again it is not all there is to early math. There is way more than recognizing the symbol for “1”, counting fingers, or rote repeating a number name. We need to be developing 1 to 1 correspondence – the skill of counting one object as you say one number.
Having just 2 objects on the floor in front of an infant allows us to touch each, labeling that touch with a number. This action begins to support an understanding that each number represents a consistent amount, a consistent order. You are developing numerical awareness. Depending on the language you are using you will be developing awareness of either Cardinal numbers which denote quantity (one, two, three), or Ordinal numbers which denote place (first, second, third). Cardinal numbers are usually earlier in the learning, but Ordinal can be right there also.
Consider: Do you find yourselves always counting how many plates, cups, spoons are out for a meal? Do you count steps as a child climbs a stool? Do you count fingers and toes? Do you count children in the space or playing in a group? Do you count the number of books in the reading pile, or maybe butterflies on the page? Do you count how many steps taking?
Have helpers for setting up the snack or meal table. Children need to count over and over again for this activity.
In this image children from around 16 months through 3.5 yrs are helping prep lunch. Intentional math means counting out plates/utensils and individual serving of such foods as the cheese sticks.
Let’s stop and think about all the learning opportunities a child has centered on their fingers.
Some of the first movement for infants is the ability to grab and hold on to an item. Once they can do that they have found a way to begin to manipulate their environment.
How do fingers and math play together?
Fingers are a visual aid always at hand. Research has shown that the part of the brain that recognizes fingers as thinking tools continues to find such tools useful into adulthood.
Research has also shown that using fingers is one of the best ways for young children to learn about numbers. Children can use fingers for counting, putting things in order, and computing early on if providers model that usage and support children as they try it themselves.
The 10 frame is a common part of math instruction in today’s early elementary program. For infants/toddlers it isn’t about the printed ten frame, but rather the idea of counting and exploring adding or taking items away. Our fingers are a built-in portable 10 frame – 2 rows of five.
I love using ice cube trays or egg cartons for a “frame”. The total number of compartments is 12 vs 10, but you can use them for counting, sorting, adding, subtracting. You are also working on fine motor skill development.
Thinking of “counting” think about of all the times we add or subtract in our daily routines and activities. Are we using math language and taking full advantage of these learning opportunities? Even though infants/toddlers have limited language, it’s important to remember that the more exposure the more learning opportunities. To learn there needs to be multiple exposures offered in a variety of ways as we know children have different learning styles and developmental levels are continually changing, especially in the first years of life.
In this image another chair is needed for everyone to be able to sit at the table. The children used math to realize another chair was needed. Did they know they were using math? Probably not and I wouldn’t tell them “You just did math.”, but rather support the problem solving they did and talk about figuring out there were 4 of them, but only 3 chairs, so they got 1 more chair for 4 chairs.
Think about the idea that when we are exploring colors with children we can bring in math if we start with the three primary colors.
What a fun way to add…….
Next: Spatial Relationships