I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. — Albert Einstein
Young children are natural mathematicians. They are passionately
curious as they explore, experiment, and ask an endless stream of questions:
What is the biggest number? How much does the sky weigh? How far is the moon?
How much water is in the ocean? How many grains of sand are there in the world?
Offering opportunities for young children to learn mathematics gives them
new ways to understand their world and provides them with the tools they need
to explore, test new ideas, and answer their own questions. The early childhood
educator plays a key role in helping children see the mathematics all around
them, creating a culture for mathematical thinking, and exploring alongside
Help children see
the world through a mathematical lens
Long before entering first grade, prekindergarten and kindergarten
children already possess strong intuitive notions of pattern, shape, magnitude,
and number, and they use these notions naturally during play (Seo and Ginsburg
2004). Teachers, childcare workers, and parents play a key role in orienting
children’s attention to the mathematics in their play by structuring occasions
to bump into the mathematics that is all around them. When teachers and
caregivers recognize the mathematics in spontaneous activities, promote
exploration and invention, prompt predictions, conjectures, and reflection, ask
questions, and challenge intuitive notions, children begin to see the world
through a mathematical lens.
Create a culture
of mathematical thinking
Young children go about their early explorations and playful work
with confidence. They will build structures with blocks only to have them
topple over, and then rebuild them again and again in ever more sophisticated
ways. Children roll balls, toy cars, and other objects down improvised ramps to
see how far the objects go. If the objects tumble off steep inclines or stall
on low ramps, children make adjustments to their structures. Adjustments and
reconstructions are not seen as errors, but rather are part of the natural
process of testing out ideas and eliminating the ones that do not work. Given
the opportunity, children will bring the same positive dispositions to their
learning and doing of mathematics.
Early educators are instrumental in creating a culture of
mathematical thinking and promoting positive dispositions toward mathematics.
For this to occur, teachers and caregivers must also see themselves as
mathematicians. They must be willing to explore and experiment alongside
children and to display curiosity in both the mathematics and the children’s
mathematical thinking. They need to ask questions that prompt predictions,
conjectures, and generalizations such as, I wonder what will happen if . . . ?
What makes you think that . . . ? Is there another way we can find out? How can
we solve the problem another way?