Thursday, November 2, 2017

Promoting Math Skills in Early Childhood

Geetha RamaniIn this article, we interviewed Dr. Geetha Ramani, a Faculty Affiliate at CECEI, about her research, the importance of promoting math skills for young children, and ways parents and professionals can help children develop math skills.

Could you tell me about your research and how it relates to child development?

Our research focuses on how social interactions and play can promote children’s cognitive development, specifically related to math and problem solving. We also examine associations between early math skills and other cognitive functions, such as the ways that working memory and language skills are related to early math development.  

We mainly focus on the early childhood period because it is important for children to have strong foundational math skills. One of the specific areas we study is how games and play can help children develop these skills. Another line of our research focuses on how interactions with adults and peers can provide children with opportunities to learn new skills and practice existing abilities. As a part of this line of research, we examine how parents communicate to their children about numbers and problem-solving strategies and how play with peers can influence children’s problem-solving skills.  

What is one thing that people may not know about this topic, or something they may be misinformed about?

Some people don’t realize the importance of early math skills as they relate to later math learning. Having a strong foundation of early mathematical knowledge can help lay the groundwork for learning later, more complex skills. People also do not realize that early mathematical knowledge includes a range of skills and areas. For example, it is important for children to understand what numbers are, such as how big and small numbers are in relation to one another, in order to do use them in more complex ways. It’s similar to reading in that it’s fine to be able to say the alphabet, but it’s not until you know the letter sounds that you will be able to use them for reading.

People are often afraid of math or did not like math when they were students. Adults don’t often realize that they have enough skills to help their children learn math and that it can be fun and engaging as well. Parents don’t have to use worksheets and flashcards. They can use games to talk about math and show how numbers are represented in the real world. It’s possible to make it fun, and that happens through social interactions and games.

How can this information be used by parents? By childcare providers/teachers?

It is important to remember that there is time to talk to young children about math in everyday life. Math can be integrated into everyday things such as:

  • Going to the grocery store- we can talk about how many apples we’re going to buy, how much they weigh, how much it’s going to cost, etc.
  • Driving- as parents are driving they can mention the speed, the distance, or the numbers on the signs.   
  • Sitting down for mealtime- at the snack or dinner table, teachers or families can talk about how many people are sitting down and how many slices of bread we will need.

Interactions and number-related talk that parents may not think are important can have a large impact, and they don’t have to spend a lot of time to talk about them. In general, it doesn’t have to take a lot of extra time to talk about math and numbers. If we make math a part of the conversation it will help increase a child’s awareness of the world and how math and numbers play into it. Many learning opportunities are things parents and teachers already do or comment on, it’s just about adding that extra step.

For more ideas for how you can help your child develop math skills, these resources may help:

Dr. Geetha Ramani is a Faculty Affiliate with CECEI and an Associate Professor in the Department of Human Development and Quantitative Methodology. Her research is focused on how social interactions and activities can influence young children’s cognitive development, specifically in mathematics and problem solving. Her program of research provides insight into the benefits and unique processes of learning mathematics through joint play and activities with peers and adults. This research serves as a basis for constructing effective mathematical educational practices for young children. In her role at CECEI, Dr. Ramani serves as a content expert for aspects of center work related to mathematics, including the 2016 Summer Institutes for Early Childhood Special Educators.

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