|Back to Home||Early Literacy - March 22, 2012|
Picture books + math = budding mathematicians
by Susan Ramsay, Early Literacy Specialist
It’s 5:25 p.m. Scuff. Scuff. Scuff. Boots, big and small, tramp and skip along the hallway. Voices of parents and young children become louder as families make their way into the school library for family math night. Quick thinking readers might wonder why the topic of math would draw a crowd, but it does!
During family math nights we learn why math for 4-6 year olds is foundational to the math concepts assessed throughout elementary school – patterning, algebra, geometry, spatial sense, numbers, estimation, measurement, probability and data management. But math for young children doesn’t look like a textbook. Instead math is explored through the everyday things in a child’s world. Children measure the height of their mom or dad with a teddy bear. They sort buttons, order them and create patterns according to button sizes or shapes. Children notice and describe patterns on their socks and on objects in the room when they go on math walks with their parents. They learn how to estimate the number of teddy grahams inside a small container. And when they learn new math vocabulary they excitedly share words like “rectangular prism” with friends so they too can have a cool new way to say “Please pass the box of Cheerios.”
Family math night has just gotten underway. Families have helped themselves to a meal, and while some finish their dinner, the quickest eaters and the keenest children and parents are sitting on the floor together discovering math inside the covers of picture books.
“We’re Going on a Bear Hunt” by Michael Rosen is a favourite. It’s filled with adventure, actions and sounds children can chime in with to help tell the story. The story, about being brave enough to hunt for a dangerous bear, is not a math book. Yet it is filled with opportunities for helping children understand mathematical concepts.
How? The illustrations and words use patterns. Each two page spread alternates in a pattern between black and white drawings and coloured ones. Each sound the hunters make as they go through the grass, river, mud, forest, and snowstorm is repeated three times. The story is told in a specific order that reverses before the tale ends. The big size of the bear is emphasized in the text while the illustrations show family members from smallest to biggest. There are people and a dog to count throughout the hunt and opportunities to talk about whether the number of hunters in one part of the story is equal to, more than, or less than, other parts of the story. The illustrations lend themselves to talking to children about spatial orientation too. The hunters are always in front of, behind, beside, on or under someone or something.
There are, of course, wonderful children’s books that focus on specific math concepts. Numbers are highlighted in “One Gorilla” by Atsuko Morozum; spatial awareness and geometry in “The Greedy Triangle” by Marilyn Burns; measurement in “The Best Bug Parade” by Stuart Murphy; patterning and algebra in “Beep, Beep, Vroom, Vroom” by Stuart Murphy; and data management and probability in “Hannah and the Seven Dresses” by Marthe Jocelyn. (For specific math ideas to use with these books visit: http://www.familyliteracyexpertise.org/Resources/mathliteracy/mathlit.htm.)
But we don’t always need math-designed books to highlight the math young children are eager to explore. It’s lurking in the books children love to read every day. All that’s needed is for adults to draw children’s attention to it. Parents are great math teachers. When they talk about math and ask children thought-provoking questions, children soon discover that they are great at math too.
Susan Ramsay is the Early Literacy Specialist for Hastings, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington. You can contact her at 613-354-6318 (ext 32)