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The home is an exciting place for children to learn and grow. Many parents enjoy engaging in learning experiences with their children such as shared book reading and game playing. However, when it comes to making math a part of the learning experience, many parents are unsure where to begin. This blog post provides fun, practical math experiences that can be done at home to help children develop critical math skills.

Michele Stites' headshot

Dr. Michele Stites Susan Sonnenschein's headshot

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein

About the authors:

Dr. Michele Stites is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Education at the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC). She received her Ed.D. in Curriculum and Instruction/Special Education from the George Washington University and her M.Ed. in special education from the University of Maryland College Park. Prior to her appointment at UMBC, she was the early childhood intervention specialist for a large school system in Maryland. Dr. Stites was an early childhood classroom teacher for 10 years working in both general and special education settings. Dr. Stites’ research interests focus on inclusive mathematics teaching practices and young children’s mathematics learning. As an assistant professor at UMBC she also works closely with teacher candidates. Dr. Stites has been widely published in both scholarly and practitioner-focused journals.

Dr. Susan Sonnenschein is a Professor in the Psychology Department at UMBC and the Graduate Program Director of the Applied Developmental Psychology Doctoral program. She received an M.S. degree from Penn State University in Educational Psychology, a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology from Stony Brook University, and is a certified (state of Maryland) school psychologist. Her research interests focus on factors that promote children’s educational success. She conducts research on family and school-based factors and how they affect children from different demographic backgrounds. In addition to having several hundred scholarly publications and presentations, she has written blogs and summaries of her research for nonprofessional audiences. One focusing on math activities to do with young children was published in the Conversation in 2018, http://theconversation.com/5-math-skills-your-child-needs-to-get-ready-for-kindergarten-103194

The learning activities young children engage in at home lead to better academic skills. We know that children who read different types of books at home are more likely to develop foundational literacy skills (Sénéchal & LeFevre, 2002; Serpell et al., 2005). And, many parents are confident that they know how to help their children learn to read (Sonnenschein, et.al., 2021). But what about math? How comfortable are parents with fostering their children’s math skills at home?

We recently asked 236 parents of preschoolers how confident they were assisting their children with reading and math skills at home. And, what we found was not surprising. Most parents thought it was very important for their children to read (86%) and do math activities at home (68%). However, they viewed reading as more important than math. Why do they view reading as more important? It may have to do with confidence. Only 32% of parents in our study reported that they were very confident in their ability to support their child’s math learning.

Given what we know about the importance of reading to children, and the need for more math exposure in the home, we should  link the two together! Making learning fun for young children and engaging their interest in such learning is positively associated with better academic skills (Sonnenschein et al., 2016).  Drilling children on skills is not (Serpell et al., 2005).

Many parents are confident engaging in dialogic reading experiences with their children and with minimal effort we can easily add math into the experience. Many parents also shared with us that they want fun, play-based ways to foster math skills at home (e.g. NO worksheets!). Here are some practical ideas:

Linking Storybook Reading to Math

  1. Expose their children to a variety of reading genres (e.g., storybooks, informational text) and find the math in the story. You do not need math themed books to do this! Count the number of bunnies, talk about shapes, find patterns, etc. Be sure to use mathematical language (e.g. “more”, “equal”, etc.) when talking about a math topic because it increases skill development (Akinci-Coşgun, et.al., 2020; Stites & Brown, 2019).
  2. Use a math themed book. Books like Anno’s Counting book and Ten Magic Butterflies are mathematically themed. Take the time to explore the math content. Questions like, “How many in all?” and “what comes next?” are great with counting books. If the book focuses on a skill like addition work on additional equations. “Wow, we just answered 2 + 1=3. Do you know what 2+2 equals?”
  3. Make use of digital and adapted books. If a child has a disability, adapted books are a great way to remove some of the barriers in traditional print books. In fact, all children, not just those with disabilities, often respond to the  different formats provided in these books.

Play-Based Math Learning

  1. Play board games. Games have been shown to be an effective way to engage with numbers and patterns. Take the time to question the child about numbers, shapes, and patterns.
  2. Take a nature walk. Notice the shapes in the leave. Count the clouds. The world is your oyster here!
  3. Build with blocks or Legos. Count the items and make patterns. Ask the child what comes next and how many there are altogether. Take some away and ask how many are left. Make shapes!
  4. Draw and create art. As the child is drawing ask her to make three more flowers. Use playdough and make shapes and patterns. And talk about the shapes the child and you create. The language used matters!

References

  1. Akinci-Coşgun, A, Stites, M.L., & Sonnenschein, S. (2020). Using storybooks to support young children’s mathematics learning at school and home. In Bekir, H., Bayraktar, V., & Karaçelik, S.N. (Eds.), Development in Education. Istanbul, Turkey: Hiperlink.
  2. Sénéchal, M., & LeFevre, J. A. (2002). Parental involvement in the development of children’s reading skill: A five-year longitudinal study. Child Development, 73 , 445–461.
  3. Serpell, R., Baker, L. & Sonnenschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city: The Baltimore Early Childhood Project. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.
  4. Sonnenschein, S., Metzger, S. R., & Thompson, J. A. (2016). Low-income parents’ socialization of their preschoolers’ early reading and math skills. Research in Human Development, 13, 207-224. doi: 10.1080/15427609.2016.1194707
  5. Sonnenschein, S., Stites, M.L., & Dowling, R. (2021).  Learning at home: What preschool parents do and what they want to learn from their children’s teachers? Journal of Early Childhood Research. doi:10.1177/1476718X20971321
  6. Stites, M.L. & Brown, E.T. (2019). Observing mathematical learning experiences in preschool.  Early Child Development and Care. doi:10.1080/03004430.2019.1601089.
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