Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thinking BIG Mathematically: Naming Numbers

Picture a ladder.  Is your ladder narrow and tall? Will it get you to the top but in a tippy way? Wide ladders give you balance. When we encourage preschoolers to talk about numeracy, we need to be sure we are giving them a broad understanding of numbers. We don’t want those mathematical ladders to fall down in future years!

As your preschooler begins to talk and explore numbers, be sure he or she understands the many names for a number and the many ways to represent this number.

Ask your child to pick a number. I like numbers with meaning like the age of the child. If your child chooses 4, have them find 4 items.

Show the representation of these 4 items, by using dots.

Have children draw their own pictures or even just lines to show the concept of 4.

Write the number 4 using words – four:

Show something broken or torn into 4 pieces:

Other ideas, depending on a child’s understanding include:

Discuss or write the idea of before and after. – “The number before 4 is 3. The number after 4 is 5.”

Tally four:


Write the number four in another language – cuatro

Have your child find everyday objects and use them to show addition sentences:

Count backwards from 4 as this is an important precursor to subtraction:

4, 3, 2, 1 ,0

Showing the many representations for numbers will help your child understand mathematics in a BIG way! 

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Using Science Fun to Develop Fine Motor Skills!

We know that fine motor skills are important for preschoolers. Consider ways you can naturally develop these skills when you take a walk. The added bonus is the science you can encourage as you walk and talk!

Ask your child to pick up examples of fallen autumn leaves. Discuss the change in colors. Encourage your child to hold the leave between his or her thumb and pointer finger and twirl it. This exercises important finger muscles and encourages coordination.

Observing and noting differences in the trees, fall air, and ground cover, like crunchy leaves helps your child improve oral expression.  Ask questions to elicit descriptive words like crackly, chilly, and crisp.

When you get back to school or home, create a fall tree picture. Prepare cut strips of red, orange, yellow, and brown paper. 

Have your child use his or her thumb and pointer finger to tear small pieces to represent leaves. If your child has difficulty making this rip, get him or her in what we call the zone of proximal development* by starting the rip yourself. Encourage the child to continue and make the rest of the tear.

Prepare a construction paper by drawing the trunk of a tree on it, as shown below.

I love to have children squeeze glue from a bottle into a container as this also strengthens important hand and finger muscles.

Give your child a paintbrush to dip in the glue. Use the paintbrush to smear glue on a large area of construction paper, above the tree trunk.  Talk about this to reinforce the concept of above.

Have your child pick up each torn piece of paper, again using the thumb and pointer finger. Ask them to place it on the area smeared with glue.  

Discuss the different colors as they are placed on the “tree.” This connects the art with the out-of-doors experience.  Connections make for meaningful learning! 

*The zone that is the difference between what a child needs help to do and what he or she can do without any help at all. We often need to make a small step in the middle of this zone to assist children, as they become independent learners.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Fun With Fonts!

We like to introduce our preschoolers to letters and numerals. But have you stopped to think about the font you use? Experienced readers see a or a and know what is meant. We see 1 or 1.But the different fonts that represent these letters and numerals can easily confuse children. Is it g or g? We need to be vigilant in looking at letters and numerals through the eyes of children who do not have the years of experience we do. So, be sure when you show children letters and numerals, you use one consistent font.

To help children recognize letters, have them “paint” letters on a small blackboard using water and a paintbrush.

You might have them form numerals from play-doh.

Ask them to find specific letters from the lowercase magnetic letters you have for the refrigerator. Using a giant magnifying glass makes this especially fun!

Then, when you feel confident your child knows the letters and numerals, introduce various fonts and have children match them. You might want to use a paper such as the one shown below. Cut out the letters and numerals. Let children match them.

You can also have children find various a’s etc. in environmental print examples such as newspaper circulars, signs, or household objects. 

Make finding letters and numerals part of your everyday routine. By showing children that print is everywhere, it becomes meaningful and natural!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Family Scientists!

This week we offer background and ideas for teachers to use in the classroom or in a newsletter. We hope families use these outdoor ideas as they explore the seasonal changes in the environment.

Science is all around us. You can encourage science in a classroom or where you live. How? One of the easiest and best ways is to simply take children outside. When adults do this, it helps awaken those memories of our own childhoods. What did we enjoy and see outside? Do you have memories of seasonal changes? Did you collect leaves, look for snakeskins, or intently observe a caterpillar on a twig? These produce long-term memories for humans. Experiences in the out-of-doors are memorable and create genuine learning opportunities. They also remind us to take time to appreciate the world all around us.

Recently I watched the excitement of four preschoolers as they discovered a large green caterpillar. The ensuing science talk was both developmentally-appropriate and would have made trained scientists proud. The little boys discussed the movement, the prickly hair, and the "googly"eyes. This is observation, as it should take place, in a natural setting. Scientific safety practices were noted as one child said the caterpillar should not be touched as it might sting. They all agreed. One budding environmentalist even said touching the caterpillar could stop it from going where it needed to travel.  With this, the talk turned to the question of where the caterpillar might be going, I realized these very young children were making hypotheses. They pointed outside the playground, up a tree, and across a road. Then they waited to test their guesses. They clapped and jumped as the caterpillar headed for a tree.  What a way to make the scientific process come alive!

An experience like this can be the perfect segue into scientific reading. Books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle can be read and connections made to the outdoor experience. Make art part of the learning fun with a follow-up painting, pictures created with markers, or even cutting out a caterpillar and using it as a puppet to reenact the experience. Remember, anything can be science!

Below are just some of our ideas. Use these as a jumping off spot to create your own natural science lesson.

·      Observe the weather.  Keep a chart. Talk about the clothes we need to wear for this weather. Books like The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats can mirror a child’s experience and lead to discussion about what we do when the weather surprises us.

·      Tracks on the ground? Study them! What animal could have made them? What direction was it heading? Perhaps you can observe ants or grubs. Invite children to ask questions about their observations. This is inquiry-based learning!

·      Observe shadows. Mark a child’s shadow on the sidewalk using chalk. Return several times during the day to discover how the shadow changes. This will likely lead to the all-important “why” question.

·      Watch a worm go into the earth. Encourage children to ask questions about this and to draw what they see.This is reporting results!

·      Watch dandelions change over several days. Talk about how the dandelion looks on specific days. This helps children activate higher-order thinking skills as they consider change over time.

Now, it’s your turn! What will you do in the classroom or home? How can you encourage families to get involved in outdoor science?

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Predictor of Later Math Success: Subitizing

We know it is important for children to count in a meaningful way. They need to be able to point to objects and say “One, two, three,” and so on. But, learning to quickly identify the number of objects is also important. Research shows that this skill, termed subitizing, is a predictor of later math success.  Yes, there are even different types of subitizing, but more about that in later posts. For now, let’s see how we can build a child’s subitizing skills.

Show them cards with dots on them. Have them say the number they see.

It is best to arrange the dots in different ways. So five could be arranged as these two examples show:

Rearrange in other ways, too. The point is that quantity recognition should be immediate. 

A fun way to help with subitizing is to cut-out fun shapes, use magnetic tape, and put them on a cookie sheet. For those with a need to touch items, put like objects on a board.  Ask children how many shapes are seen.

Using pictures with circles can help children with tactile needs. Have them use puff balls, colored stones, or small blocks to cover the dots. Discuss the quantity until the recognition becomes automatic.

Print this picture to use with your children: