In early childhood education, the math center involves children interacting with collections of materials. Many adults think that teachers and parents should wait until children are school age to begin introducing math and manipulative concepts to young children. This is simply not true. However, the mechanics of teaching is different for the preschool child.From the text, Preschool Appropriate Practices, author Janice Beaty lists the following concrete objects: bolts of various sizes with a box of nuts to fit them, a set of used-up markers and the colored caps that match them, a box of empty plastic bottles of all kinds and the bottle tops to screw on them, a bunch of keys and locks, a bucket of sea shells of various kinds, cars, trucks, Legos, etc. Two-dimensional objects such as paper copies are not the same as three-dimensional objects. See Advantages of Learning Centers for an overall view of the activity areas.
Research from world renowned theorists such as Piaget, Vygotsky, Kamii, and others provide important data on why children need to manipulate objects in order to build brain synapses. Recently, I read where a middle-school teacher had brought concrete objects to some of her struggling math students as a way to help them understand simple fractions. The teacher used items from an early childhood classroom to enable the students to “get-it.” With a rubber pie with removable slices, the students could remove three slices and clearly see that ½ the pie was missing. Therefore, each student understood the fraction of 3/6 = 1/2. The concrete objects provided their brains with the sensory stimuli necessary to form logical thought.
In early childhood education, math involves the following areas:
1. Classification – This is the ability to group objects that have common things about it.
a. Examples of this might be: (1) a large basket of different shaped plastic Christmas balls, (2) a large bowl of sea shells, (3) a collection of buttons,, etc. The task is for the child to put all the same items in smaller bowls.
2. One-to-one correspondence – This is the ability to match one object with another because they belong together.
a. Examples of this might be: (1) a bucket of empty food cartons and plastic containers such a mayonnaise, cool whip, and purchased food storage containers and include all the lids, (2) Dried markers with colored lids, (3) plastic animals such as horses with matching saddles. The task is for the child to find and place the object with the matching object. (It builds fine motor skills, too).
3. Seriation – This is the ability to order objects by size, texture, taste, color, sound and so on in ascending or descending.
a. Examples of this might be: (1) a basket of plastic cars of varying sizes, (2) a basket of fabrics with varying degrees of texture such as velvet and corduroy, basket of fabric with varying colors of red such as rose to crimson red. The task is different from classification. You want the child to line up the objects from say the smallest car to the largest car or the lightest color of fabric to the darkest color.
4. Counting – This is the ability to name numbers in a fixed sequence and apply this ability to a total.
a. Examples of this might be: (1) the child is asked to count out five Christmas balls and hang on the tree, (2) Place five plates and napkins on the table, (3) wash ten fire fighter figures and place them on the fire truck. The task is for the child to count out a specific number.
There are many items around the home that can be used as manipulative to enhance the area. It is important to change-out the material often. Some items are: toy cars, seashells, buttons, bottle caps, pebbles, seeds, nuts, toy planes, toy animals, boxes, cards, keys and locks, golf tees, uncooked pasta, picture dominoes, stacking blocks, egg cartons, markers and caps, Legos, and much more.
In your home or classroom, have natural math experiences such as conversations where you use math skills. Some examples are: (1) “Cyrus, I am setting out five glasses of milk.” “Elizabeth, let’s put a napkin by each plate.” “Jon, let’s count on the calendar how many more days until Christmas.” “Zack, let’s measure how many inches it snowed last night.” Include some of the following materials at the Math center: rulers, toy clocks, a bathroom scale, telephone numbers and toy phones, etc.
The goal is to want children to be excited about numbers and math. With ample experiences with concrete objects, you child will be ready when your child starts to school and teachers begin math worksheets exercises on paper.
Cautionary Statement: This blog recommends small objects to be used in early childhood education at the math/manipulative center. The target age group is 4-6 year old children. The small items mentioned in this blog should not be within reach of infants or toddlers since they are at the sensorimotor stage and put everything in their mouth. With preschoolers, the teacher or parent should have visible contact at all times.