Monday, November 14, 2011

Pre-Math: One of These Things

Sometimes as parents, and as teachers, we discount the things that children do as they play that help them learn math skills. We can encourage children to do things that develop good “math brains” without making them sit down and look at flash cards or do worksheets (I know a lot of kids love flash cards and worksheets, but we need to expand our horizons a little!)

One very important math concept and skill is that of sorting. In a previous post about combining like terms, I talked about how combining like terms was a lot like sorting laundry or marbles, or anything else than can be sorted and grouped.

Children like to sort and group naturally. My son will sort his toy cars by color, my daughter loves to help put the dishes in their correct places.

When our children practice sorting during play, or while helping mom and dad around the house, they are learning valuable math skills that will play a part in whether or not they are easily able to grasp the concept of things like combining like terms later in school.

Another part of sorting is being able to classify objects. In the picture above where my children are sorting laundry, they wouldn’t be able to sort the laundry unless they knew what set of classifications we were using to sort. Are we sorting kid’s clothes and grown-up’s clothes? Are we sorting every color? In our case, we were sorting according to “light” colors, “dark” and “ bright” colors, and “whites” – which meant that I had to explain what each of those classifiers meant.

When my children understood the classifiers, they were able to sort. Being able to classify objects (especially in different ways – like I said above) is also very significant and an important ability for children to develop so they will be successful in math skills later on. They have to be able to classify math “objects” such as numbers, coefficients, variables, exponents, etc.

Another game to play is “One of these things is not like the others” where you have a group of objects, and one object is not like the others. In this game, you are classifying objects, but you are also teaching the concept of “one” (which might seem like an easy concept, but trust me – you probably don’t actually understand “one”, even as an adult. I didn’t fully understand what “one” meant until I was finished with my undergraduate studies).

Try to find ways to help your children classify and sort objects. Try to make it a fun game that has to do with your life (sorting silverware or laundry, classifying cars when you are driving “Can you see a red car? How about a red truck? What about a blue truck?”). As your children learn to classify and sort objects, and as they do it on a daily basis, their brains will be gearing up to understand much more complex mathematical situations as they grow up.

What ways do you teach your children how to classify and sort? Do you feel like you are able to teach your children math concepts?

If you have questions, you can ask them in the comments, email me, ask on Facebook, or on Twitter. I am on Facebook and Twitter live from 3:00-3:30 pm Mon-Thurs MDT.

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