Early development of number concepts is critical in developing positive attitudes about mathematics at an early age. Special methods and activities will assist children to develop early numeracy skills. These methods will need to include the use of motivating and engaging concrete materials that children can manipulate. Young children need to experience a lot of 'doing' and 'saying' before written numerals will make sense to them.
As early as 2 years of age, many children will parrot the words 'one', 'two', 'three', 'four', 'five' etc. However, rarely do they understand that the number refers to an item or a set of items. At this stage, children do not have 'number conservation' or 'number correspondence'.
What are these concepts and how can you help?
Engaging children with a variety of measurement concepts is a great beginning. For instance, children enjoy telling us that they are 'bigger' than their sister or brother or 'taller' than the lamp or that they are 'higher' than the dishwasher. Young children will also think that they have 'more' in their cup simply because their cup is taller. This type of language needs to be promoted and children need parental guidance to help with the misconceptions of these concepts through experimentation. The bathtub is a great starting point, using a variety of plastic cylinders/cups and containers. At this age, perception is the child's guide, they do not have any other strategies to guide them in determining which has more or less, is heavier or lighter etc. A parent or day care provider can provide great learning experiences to assist young childrens' misconceptions through play.
Classification is a pre-number concept that children need lots of experimentation and communication with. We classify on a regular basis without even considering what we're actually doing. We look in indexes that are alphabetized or numerically arranged, we purchase groceries in areas of food groups, we classify to sort laundry, we sort our silverware before putting it away. Children can benefit from a variety of classification activities which will also support early numeracy concepts.
• Use blocks to engaged young children to repeat the patterns.....blue, green, orange etc.
• Ask young children to sort the silverware or the laundry based on color.
• Use shapes to encourage children to determine what comes next----triangle, square, circle, triangle, etc.
• Ask children to think of everything they can write with, ride on, that swims, that flies etc.
• Ask children how many items in the living room are square or round or heavy etc.
• Ask them to tell you how many things are made of wood, plastic, metal etc.
• Extend classification activities to include more than one attribute (heavy and small, or square and smooth etc.)
Before Children Count
Children need to 'match sets' before they will understand 'number conservation' and that counting is actually referring to sets of items. Children are guided by their perceptions and will think that there are more grapefruits than lemons in a pile due to the actual size of the piles. You will need to do one to one matching activities with young children to help them develop conservation of number. The child will move one lemon and you can move the grapefruit. Repeat the process so that the child can see the number of fruits is the same. These experiences will need to be repeated often in a concrete manner which enables the child to manipulate the items and become engaged in the process.
More Pre-Number Activities
Draw a number of circles (faces) and put down a number of buttons for eyes. Ask the child if there are enough eyes for the faces and how they can find out. Repeat this activity for mouths, noses etc. Speak in terms of more than and less than or as many as and how can we find out.
Use stickers to make patterns on a page or classify them by attributes. Arrange a row of a set number of stickers, arrange a second row with more spaces between the stickers, ask the child if there are the same number of stickers or more or less. Ask how they can find out - DON'T COUNT! Match the stickers one to one.
Arrange items on a tray (toothbrush, comb, spoon etc.) ask the child to look away, rearrange the items to see if they realize the number of items is still the same or if they think it's different.
You will have given young children a great start to Mathematics if you perform the above activity suggestions before introducing them to numbers. It's often difficult to find commercial activities to support classification, one to one matching, number conservation, conservation, as many as/more than/the same as etc. and you will probably need to rely on typical toys and household items. These concepts underlie the important mathematical concepts that children will eventually become involved in when they begin school.