I was always intimidated by math growing up. I didn’t immediately connect to the concepts in class, and felt overwhelmed by on the spot answering I enjoyed in other areas of school. Math just wasn’t for me. It wasn’t until I began my training to become a teacher, and was taught the theories and concepts behind math that it finally clicked for me. I was missing some of the basic understanding and comfort with the numbers and so everything from that point on was causing me anxiety as a student so eager to do well. This new appreciation for math came flowing from my fingertips when I had my own classroom, and then eventually my daycare. It was easy to make it a part of my everyday now that I finally understood and valued those basic concepts and it was my goal to have the same “math is fun” attitude come out in little ones who were natural investigators.
Children are already using math in their everyday as they make sense of the world around them. Addition, subtraction, more and less than, are all concepts that take part in play as children understand they have fewer cheerios than a sibling or that as they eat them, there are fewer in the bowl. Sharing, turn taking, sorting, collecting, measuring and pouring, and loose parts play (more on that here) are critical in developing math routines through informal action and lay the foundation that more complex math will depend on later in school years (which is what I learned the hard way!).
In hopes to set my daughter up with positive math experiences I spent a lot of time researching the best ways to approach these concepts in the very young and what manipulative would be most meaningful. A favourite teaching toy we have at home would be our Counting Bears. These adorable little bears are amazing for so many different activities (such as a recent post about bears and hibernation) and are a constant in our play. You can get these in just about any animal or area of interest – our favourites being bugs, pigs, sheep, and of course the bears.
Just allowing your little one (of course using your judgement with small parts play and the age and actions of your child) to play freely with the bears is a great way to start. You’ll see them coming to some of these conclusions on their own but encouraging and enriching their understanding will be meaningful in what they take away from the already valuable play with a parent.
Our favourite activities with these tiny bears:
- Counting – just simply counting these bears is a great reinforcement of number sense and understanding.
- Simple Math – building on those skills of number sense is the relationship between the numbers through addition and subtraction. Mommy has 4 bears but she shares one with Daddy. How many bears does Mommy have now? Let’s count together!
- Bears in Bowls – Using matching coloured bowls, plates or paper, we’ve created a game that enforces colour naming and association, as well as organizing and sorting the bears into groups. From there, of course you could group by size (which will be the early stages of spatial sense for school – shape, size, space, position, direction and movement), and then count how many you have in each group.
- Measurement – oh I love this one! Using the bears (or whatever toy you choose) you can measure various objects or distances throughout the house. How many bears big is this book?
- Estimating – It’s fun to make guesses and even more fun to hear the extraordinary numbers my little lady comes up with when estimating how many bears there are in a group. Although we are in early stages, and this is a difficult activity (for any age… you know those online guesses for how many M&M’s or Skittles in a jar?!) this activity allows us to talk about more or less, bigger or smaller, and the naming of numbers.
- Patterns – there is a natural tendency to line up little toys like this and pointing out patterns that are created naturally, like an ABAB pattern or something more complex, are those first stages in understanding things that repeat, making predictions and problem solving. I play with patterns when I play alongside my daughter which often results in her mimicking my creation. This is a great activity for preschoolers when offered the beginning portion of a pattern for them to complete. Patterns can be those early introductions to things like telling time, and understanding a calendar, as well as coding which are all things learned in school but that can be enriched at home with ease through activities like this!
- Loose Parts Play – this is an easy one to just let happen. When given free access to our little bears, my daughter with bring them out to be a part of just about anything, especially following a recent reading of We’re Going on a Bear Hunt (see more idea and activities here). And why not, with those cute little faces. Bringing in a sensory bin of outdoor bits and pieces creates the prefect landscape for a dramatic small world play for these bears and their bear caves. Letting the little bears make “footprints” in playdough, or splash about in soapy water (which also equals washing them!!!) is a great way to see them used and enjoyed. It’s interesting to watch the other learning from previously listed activities unfold through conversation in loose parts play with familiar toys (more about loose parts here).
- Bears in the Tub – These adorable little creatures make wonderful bath friends and are happy to go along for the ride in a makeshift boat sailing the soapy seas. This is a perfect scenario to introduce weight and buoyancy in very early stages as a few too many bears abroad the ship require a shout of “Bears Overboard!”
Although the options are truly endless, these are just a few ideas to get you going and watching your little one love these little counting bears will have you coming up with even more ideas that we would love to hear about!