Making math fun for kids
Most of us are willing to introduce reading to young children; math is another thing altogether as Patricia Clark Kenschaft recognizes in her excellent book Math Power: How to Help Your Child Love Math, Even If You Don't. Kenschaft calls on her experience as an elementary school math teacher, professor of mathematics, and author of college math textbooks to allay parental worries and help us have fun with our children in learning math skills. She makes a strong case for math power "the ability to use and enjoy mathematics." Starting with fun and games with preschoolers and moving to primary-grade math success, Kenschaft is always aware of the role of parents and of teachers, telling mom and dad many skills they can encourage on their own and how to combat the "drill and kill" routines that have turned off so many kids from math.
Stuart J. Murphy is the author of HarperCollins's new series of 15 hardcover books based on visual learning the MathStart series. Categorized by three age groups, covering ages 3 to 8, these stories carefully integrate the illustrations with fun-to-read stories to teach basic math skills. "Kids don't experience math in problem number sets," says Murphy. "They experience it through stories in their lives." In A Fair Bear Share (illustrated by John Speirs, ages 6 and up), Mama Bear sends her four cubs out to pick nuts, berries, and seeds for a blueberry pie. Three of the cubs pick industriously, but their little sister just wants to play and play and play. Alas, when the harvest is counted, in groups of ten with remainders, she must return to pick her "fair bear share." Then Mama Bear makes a blue ribbon blueberry pie.
Each book in the series has additional suggestions at the back for using the concept it demonstrates (shapes, bar graphs, time lines, comparisons, fractions, etc.). Murphy wants parents to expose their children to mathematical concepts from the beginning just as they do with language. Include comments about the obvious math in what they see and do as they fold and sort laundry, count the steps as they go downstairs, watch the odometer in the car. Make math part of daily living.
Number combinations is the underlying theme of two new books by popular author and artist Bernard Most. Children who are three-year-olds and up will be entranced with the playful dinosaurs in A Pair of Protoceratops and A Trio of Triceratops. In the former, the happy prehistoric animals paint pictures, paste paper, play ping pong, etc., teaching the concept of two as well as sharing with a friend. Fun alliterative activities also abound (it must be catching!) in A Trio of Triceratops. With books like these, an investment of nothing more than a little bit of time can give young readers and counters workouts that spell f-u-n.
Another good math title is Monster Math: School Time (illustrated by Marge Hartelius, preschool-grade 1). As a family of dinosaur-like monsters go through their day, from waking till bedtime, the time of each activity is noted with both a digital clock and an "old-fashioned" clock with numbers and two hands. Burns suggests that children make their own time book, showing what they do at certain times of the day, an activity that teaches time-telling as well as gives families a nice keepsake detailing their preschooler's routine. In addition, Burns outlines the rules of two games, "The Timer Game," and "The Monster Math Game," both of which sound easy and fun.