Early Childhood Education: How parents can help kids keep math skills sharp through everyday interactions.

Our grasp of math begins in early childhood — long before we enter formal education and the pre-school or kindergarten classroom. Parents can count steps, compare big and small quantities, and find patterns in everyday activities (“car, car, truck, car”) such as a walk through a parking lot. Real world math is everywhere.

Grace Harris, early childhood educationWe caught up with Grace Harris, ’20, who combined her coursework and experience in both early childhood education and elementary education at Saint Vincent College, and asked her for some tips for parents facing a summer and possibly another school-year with young kids away from the classroom.

“The best part of parent-child interactions with real world math is that it gives parents a chance to model persistence,” Harris says. “Parents can show their child that even if math seems difficult at times, it’s best to keep trying and remain positive rather than simply give up. The real-world piece helps to make math concepts tangible. Students tend to work harder when they see why it is important to learn something.”

Harris, who completed her student-teaching at Baggaley Elementary School in the Greater Latrobe School District, will launch her teaching career as a fifth-grade teacher at Farmington Elementary School in Culpepper, Virginia.

She offers these ideas for parents to work on math during the course of their day, during the challenges of stay-at-home orders and beyond.

Objects Galore: Early childhood educators know that young kids come pre-wired to collect, stack and sort. Provide lots of objects that can be arranged by size, shape and color.

Get Moving: Kids naturally learn better when they are asked to move and think at the same time. Create tents, tunnels, blanket forts and other interactions that beg the question: Will she fit inside? How many will the tent hold? Sketch chalk circles to make a game of walking the neighborhood. How many big steps to the mailbox?

Explore Spaces. An important part of early childhood development is recognizing directions and other spatial senses. Playgrounds, for one, offer lots of up/down, left/right, straight or diagonal changes.

How much water fills the cup? How many footprints equal the length of the garden hose? How does the bathroom scale change when two kids stand together as one?

Kids love to bring treasure home — whether it’s a collection of 3-dimensional rocks, sticks or leaves from a walk, or different shapes of dry pasta from a relative’s pantry.

Harris, who was active in the Early Childhood Education Club and Mathematics Club on campus, received the 2020 Award for Academic Excellence in early education, given to the major’s top graduating senior.

She encourages parents to experiment. “Math can be abstract so by using real objects or pictures, concepts can become more concrete for students,” she says. “I like to use games to make math more fun. Playing cards and dice are great for practicing different operations. I have also found different tic-tac-toe and bingo boards to practice anything from shapes to multiplication to fractions. Although math can be frustrating for some students (and parents), as students practice and are able to master skills and concepts, they should become more confident in their mathematical ability and be ready to face math problems with a positive outlook.”