I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious. — Albert Einstein
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?
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 opportunities
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.
In the past decade, early learning in mathematics has
received a significant amount of attention in research and policy. As the
importance of mathematics in society increases, concerns about achievement
gaps, readiness for school, and the role that early mathematics learning plays
in a child’s future success increase as well (Sarama and Clements 2009). While
it is important to provide rich mathematical experiences for young children as
a means to address these concerns, 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
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?