This activity is more than a "math" game. It is an opportunity for children to develop their critical thinking skills, to work together as a team, and to develop a basic understanding of quantity. It can be fun when facilitated by a skilled teacher.
Activate several areas of the children’s brains at the same time with this fun, engaging, and thought-provoking learning opportunity. In a small group, encourage children to roll two dice. Support the children as they count the total number of dots. Have them jump up and down the number of dots that they rolled as they and their friends count. Involving the children’s bodies helps to develop a strong sense of what numbers mean, the quantity of each number, and of one-to-one correspondence (the concept that when counting, each number represents one object or action).
Then, encourage the children to work as a team to find the matching number on a piece of artwork you have covered with post-it notes with dots and numbers (figure 1). As the post-it notes come off, ask the children questions like, “What do you see?” Encourage them to describe as best they can the details of the images they see. Ask them, “What do you wonder about what we might find in this picture?” Be sure the children know that they cannot make a bad or wrong guess. Be supportive of all of their answers. Enable children to further their thinking by asking them, “What makes you say that?” Model thinking by making your own guesses and explaining why you think that way. For example, you could say, “I see a brown section and a small green shape. That makes me think of the tree in my backyard.”
Always stimulate children to notice and think more! To accomplish this, you might ask the children questions like, “What do you think this child is thinking about?” or, “How do you think she got on that branch?” or, “What do you think those little white dots and lines around the tree are?”
Teaching preschool is all about capitalizing on children’s interests and offering fun, engaging opportunities to gain more experience with concepts. The fact that preschool children quite often notice size and are interested in comparing sizes means that teachers have many opportunities to extend children’s thinking while they are already excited to learn.
Math in preschool is fun…or it can and should be. Being intentional about teaching math does not necessarily mean creating academic activities to fill in the math box on the lesson plan.
It means noticing the many times a day when children say something like:
- “I’m bigger.”
- “My cookie is the biggest! It’s huge!”
- “I make the tallest building!”
Or even the dreaded, but true, “Miss Kat, your belly is really big.”
Language like this demonstrates children’s interest in learning about measurement and it can offer opportunities for children to develop mathematic skills and reasoning.
Encouraging children to experience measuring does not take much and the payoff can be huge, but it is important to keep some things in mind.
Maintain appropriate expectations. Children at this age have usually not had enough experiences with numerals, comparing quantities, or other foundational concepts using rulers or other standard units of measurement the same way that adults do. They also rarely have the fine motor skills to hold the measuring tools precisely or with great accuracy.
An upside down tape measure does not need to be corrected. Even though it doesn't look “right” to an adult, this child is developing important skills and is building a foundation for understanding. With more experiences like this, she will discover on her own that turning the tape the other direction will give her more information. That will be much more powerful than being told she’s doing it “wrong” now.
This is not a bad thing and it definitely doesn't mean that you shouldn't include measurement in your curriculum. Quite the opposite! Preschool is the perfect time to have lots of experiences with measuring. Having many and varied opportunities to explore measurement in relaxed, playful ways gives children a wealth of knowledge and experience, making future learning much easier.
Having experiences comparing size is more important than using standard units of measure correctly. Remember, too that nonstandard units of measure are wonderful ways for children to be actively involved in measurement and to really understand the concept of comparing size.
Wondering how many more measuring blocks she needs to make the different blocks the same size. This is math in action in preschool.
Using connecting blocks to measure a favorite toy. This car is more than 3, but smaller than 4, blocks long.