Interesting article in the New York Times this morning by Benedict Carey, Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them.
One of the reasons I went back to get my Masters in Psychology — and specifically to study the development of children and the issues of parenting– was to better understand how children learn. During the ’90s there was an explosion of mis-information about how babies and toddlers can learn their abcs, math facts and a variety of foreign languages from toys that were covered with symbolic symbols (1,2,3, A,B,C)…and by being placed in front of baby videos that were going to make your child smarter. Thankfully–the value of such “crib education” has been debunked.
The article today supports what we know about children–that by the time they are preschoolers they are at the starting point of making the leap between concrete knowledge (there are three oranges on the table) to more abstract symbols (3). In fact I loved that the article points out that many children’s book incorrectly show a piece of pizza as representation of a triangle even though it has a rounded point.
There is a socio-economic gap at play here. While many families, perhaps without even being aware of what they’re doing, have already introduced their kids to math concepts by playing early board games at home – underprivileged kids often come to school without having had those early experiences. But note that the experiences are just what we’ve been talking about–you can’t really understand “3” unless you’ve experienced it–whether it’s by counting the apples that go in the back at the grocery story–or building with blocks. We learn best at this early stage through hands-on interactions.
As with anything in life, if you can make the experience fun and engaging–you are more likely to produce a child that wants more. The article isn’t a call to drill kids on math facts once they hit pre-school—so don’t even think about taking out the flash cards! It does underscore the importance of introducing math as part of the world we live in–it informs all aspects of our lives and we will be best serve by a generation that isn’t afraid of math.
There are so many wonderful math games to play with your preschoolers– our site is full of them.