Last Wednesday, I was at the meeting at the local primary school my children attend. My baby boy is starting school next September (not such a baby anymore!!) and the principal presented us with the curriculum and new changes included in the program for 2011. The first trimestre is basically dedicated to experiential/discovery learning, very similar to what we are already doing in our classroom. Every activity we present the preschoolers in literacy, mathematics, or even history/geograpphy are definitely a great preparation to what will be expected of them next September. I have already written about our pre-reading and writing activities. So I thought it was now appropriate to talk about a few mathematical exercises we do together in our classroom.
Mathematics includes different aspects: of course, the first one that comes to everybody's mind would be numeracy. However, here, I want to concentrate on matching, sets /classification, order/seriation and measurement/geometry, because I want to show you that there’s more to preschool math than counting. Writing it all in one post would be too long and this is why I have split it into 3 parts. This is the first one.
1- So let's start with matching. When you think of it, matching is one of the first mathematical concepts to develop in a child and is a foundation to logical thinking. It includes recognizing objects that belong together and matching uneven sets of objects on a one-to-one correspondence. Pairing odd socks/mittens/shoes, matching similar sounds or scales of different purples is a very good matching exercise the children do on a daily basis in our classroom (see photos below):
Matching unequivalent sets is a little bit trickier but the children love the challenge: matching a knife with a fork, a hammer with a saw, a gardening glove with a trowel etc... And for this type of activity, we use everyday tools on our pracical exercises shelves.
2- In our classroom, we also teach children sets or classification. Classification exists when two or more events are treated as equivalent. It is the understanding of “sameness”. Montessori saw that children had a natural sense of order and tended to categorize objects on their own initiative. In fact she felt that the term 'mathematical mind' was particularly appropriate. And this is why she has developed materials/equipment but also practical activities aiming at developing this sense of categorization/classification in children to promote mathematical thinking. Classification skills are building blocks for learning important math concepts. Children classify objects, ideas, sounds, smells, or flavors into groups (categories) according to traits they have in common. Children ages 3-5 are learning to recognize colors, shapes, sizes, and materials. They are learning about parts and wholes. They can compare: biggest/smallest, more/less. We use Montessori materials but we also use items you could find in your own house or outside in your garden: buttons, keys, coins, pasta, cereal, fabric or paper scraps, marbles, balls, stamps, postcards, jar lids, leaves, shells.
Sorting vegetables and fruit
Sorting animals who leave on land, in the air or in the water
They can so by one trait at a time—separating blue buttons from red ones, for example- or by 2 or more attributes (by shape and colour for example).
To conclude, classification/matching are pre-number concepts and children need lots of experimentation as well as communication with it. We classify on a regular basis without even considering what we're actually doing. We look in indexes that are alphabetized or numerically arranged, we purchase groceries in areas of food groups, we classify to sort laundry, we sort our silverware before putting it away. Children can benefit from a variety of classification activities which will also support early numeracy concepts (for example, using blocks to engaged young children to repeat the patterns.....blue, green, orange etc. / using shapes to encourage children to determine what comes next----triangle, square, circle, triangle, etc./ asking children to think of everything they can write with, ride on, that swims, that flies etc..)
Keep in touch for parts 2 and 3 of this post on mathematical concepts (order/seriation and measurement/geometry)