I raise my children the same way I was raised: by letting them develop their own personalities and interests.
As a parent, it’s my job to introduce as much as I can into their lives. We provide diverse experiences and activities, introduce different ideas and ways of doing things, and expose them to as many subject areas as possible. For most of the year, I’ve done a revolving schedule of reading, letters, numbers, science, history, and art with my son, one subject per day. Even though I love books and reading, I don’t spend our days just reading books with my kids. Even though my husband is a scientist, he doesn’t try to do experiments with them every weekend. Instead, we encourage diversity and are guided by their interests.
My son recently turned 4. He’s done a bit of traveling to other states, but most of his experiences have been across Southern California. His first word was the result of an obsession with an owl book. He loved an Irish singing group called Celtic Thunder. He’ll play on his keyboard and my harp every chance he gets. He loves baking and helping us cook. He enjoys building with blocks and playing in his kitchen. He’s curious about the world and enjoys nature from a distance (he’ll freak out if he gets a bit of dirt on his hands, so not quite sure how he’s going to survive the rest of his childhood).
But do you know what he really loves?
Science and math.
His father is thrilled. He has so many experiments in mind that sometimes I think he’s going to implode. I, on the other hand, am a little bewildered. Being at home means I have the time to explore science and math with him. But…I really suck at math and literature is more my forte.
All I can say is, thank goodness he’s only 4 and not doing scientific calculations!
But it does mean I’m teaching him addition and subtraction. Because he’s excited to learn it.
I think I have to “thank” the PBS show Peg + Cat for this. The whole show is based on math concepts and my son religiously watches it Monday-Friday right before naptime. He has been known to throw a fit if he misses it.
One day, right in the middle of the show, he turned to me and started asking me addition problems. Curious to see where he was going with this, I played along and started asking him simple addition problems. He figured it out within seconds, figured out subtraction five minutes later, and has been enjoying addition and subtraction for over a month now.
I’m not going to say he’s some math whiz, but he definitely surprises us all the time. I’m a little scared he’s going to be asking about multiplication and division any day now.
So, how do I teach my toddler simple math?
It’s really very simple!
- Visuals are key. Remember when you were a kid learning math? We had all those dreadful worksheets asking us to color the apples one color and the oranges another color and then to add the apples and oranges together. Basically, it’s counting. But it’s how young children learn to add and subtract. I usually use my fingers for answers between 0 and 10 and his toys or other objects for greater numbers.
- Show the problem in motion. If your problem is 2+2, then set out 2 items and say “2.” Then say the “plus 2” and put 2 additional objects in a separate, but close, pile. That way your child hears the problem, sees the problem, can start to understand how it works, and can then count and provide an answer.
- Be patient. Kids can be slow counters and may need to see and hear the problem more than once. It may be tempting to constantly shuffle things around and encourage them to count, but their processing speed, just like an adult’s, is not always whip fast. If your child looks confused, present it again, a bit slower. If they’re just not paying attention, stop and wait for another opportunity. Remember, a 4 year old does not need to know how to add and subtract! (Hear that, my child?!)
- Make it fun! As with everything with kids, make it fun. Do addition with candy and let them eat it. Do it with toys and then play with them. But, most of all, if they have no interest, don’t push it. My son enjoys math, but he doesn’t want to have to do it all day every day.
I constantly call my son a little weirdo. He’s unlike a lot of toddlers his age that we know, hates getting dirty, actually listens to me at home and in public, is consistently polite, and is well-behaved in public. And now I can add budding mathematician. Seriously, where did this child come from?
Well, his dad recently informed me he wants phonics videos when he’s being put to bed (daddy handles his bedtime), so I guess we’ll be starting reading soon, too.
Perhaps it’s because we never stressed academics that he’s interested in doing math and reading at an age where he should be focused on playing and getting muddy. Or maybe it’s just his curious mind. Either way, he constantly surprises us.