Did you realize that you were thinking mathematically the last time you sorted and put things away, be it dishes, laundry, or groceries? Even more to the point, did you realize that from birth on, infants and toddlers are developing their ability to think about patterns and sets in ways that become explicitly mathematical as they reach school age?
On November 18th-21st, 2015, instructors Dr. Mary Hynes-Berry and Dr. Jie-Qi Chen attended the annual National Association for the Education of Young Children’s (NAEYC) national conference presenting on just that: the precursor concepts of math for babies and toddlers.
As discussed with colleagues at the event, math isn’t just number recognition, but rather it is a pivotal part of thinking and understanding the environment we live in. Math is thinking that is logical and precise. And infants and toddlers begin to hone in on this logical thinking and precision before numbers are even introduced. Babies make sense of the world around them by defining and describing the world around them. Or as our instructors suggest, they find the Math All Around Me (MAAM).
In Orlando, Florida for the week, NAEYC attendees had the opportunity to explore what it is that caregivers can do to encourage mathematical thinking at such an early stage. One way is to acknowledge and support a baby’s natural inclination to sort according to their senses. Just as you easily sort foods according to ones you like and don’t like, infants begin doing the same. Their early sorting often takes the form of what they like and don’t like: foods, sounds, toys.
What you like is an attribute. Number is also an attribute. Identifying attributes is one of the precursor concepts of math that begins to develop in infants and toddlers and can be supported by quality interactions with caregivers.
As they are becoming two- and three-year-olds, children’s use of language to express their perception of the world grows exponentially. A caregiver can use these opportunities to explore the cognitive experience of cause and effect, the ability to plan, as well as encourage time to collect and name properties of a set based on shared attributes. These are just a few ideas and perspectives that Drs. Hynes-Berry and Chen discussed at the conference.
Learn more about the ongoing work the Collaborative has undertaken in collaboration with the Ounce of Prevention Fund.