The biggest cookie. The longest pretzel. The largest balloon. When it comes to kids and treats, bigger is always better! What we might not notice is that all those crafty calculations involve mental math. At a young age, our children are learning to compare and estimate length, width, weight and other quantities to pick the best choice.
Why do these skills matter? One informal study found that kindergartners’ ability to estimate on the fly the number of objects in a pile– called “subitizing” – was an almost perfect predictor of kids’ success or struggles with math in first grade. Those who could look at up to 5 objects and guess the total quickly and correctly emerged as the better math students a year later.
Guess what: kids build these skills in real life, not just at school. In fact, kids spend only about 1/4 of their waking hours at school over the year! If children can gain a leg up by building number and spatial sense during play, let’s make that happen. Here are 3 fun ways to mix in math at home!
#1. Line ‘Em Up
That pencil line-up is an easy activity that can be done with other objects, too, and the results have a zen regularity. Find 8-10 objects of a set and line them up from shortest to longest, or vice-versa. Notice that your line-up looks like a bar graph – great pre-training for algebra!
#2. Stack Attack
Just as we can compare the sizes of objects like pencils, we can compare piles of multiple items. Which color crayon shows up the most? Which color M&M? Make a nice straight line for each set, and see how again you produce a cute little bar graph.
#3. Too Big? Too Small? Just Right!
Goldilocks and the Three Bears teach a great lesson on moderation: sometimes the middle one is the best, not the biggest or smallest. As a bite-sized ramp-up, ask kids to find 3 similar objects – 3 circles, 3 furry things, 3 things we’d love to wear on our head – and place them in a row in size order. Size can increase from left to right or right to left, helping reinforce this spatial skill at the same time. See how many items you can add to the mix!