We find that one sure fire way to warm up children’s attitude towards mathematics is to build math activities and lessons out of the books they all love to read.
When we start to sort through books that could be used in this way, three categories emerge.
One is the concept book, which is all those books specifically about shapes and counting and other mathematical concerns. Though they may belong to the same category, there are different types. For example, counting concept books can involve straightforward counting of items; that’s what happens in Sandra Boynton’s Doggies. In others, the counting occurs in the context of a story. Hippos Go Berserk is another Sandra Boynton book that uses this approach. In still other cases, the counting is part of a song or finger play such as 5 Little Monkeys.
A second category of books good for math may look like typical picture books or stories, but these books all have a mathematical problem situation built right into them. The stories invite you to look with a mathematical lens, using the story to trigger a mathematical discussion or activity. One of our favorites in this regard is the Chinese folktale, Two of Everything by Lily Toy Hong, about what happens when a magic pot doubles everything that goes into it. Children love making up stories about what they would like to put into the pot. They also love acting out Ellen Stoll Walsh’s Mouse Count. As they do so, they are physically experiencing how adding and subtracting makes more and less of something.
Finally, there are all kinds of wonderful stories that aren’t specifically mathematical but can be extended to develop understanding of mathematical Big Ideas. We have begun our learning labs about algebraic thinking by having the teachers list all the sets and patterns they can find in Goldilocks and the Three Bears. They report later on all the ways they could tailor this activity for use in their classrooms. In the Cinderella variation called The Talking Eggs by Robert San Souci, ornery students may like to make up story problems about how many treasures or nasty creatures came out of the eggs to reward or punish the kind and the mean daughter.