teaching math and science to preschoolers sm 1533

What is the right age to start learning about math and science?

You may be surprised to learn that your preschooler is ready to be introduced to more than rote counting and discussing the weather. Recent research by the National Research Council (NRC) and National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) shows that there is a huge opportunity being missed when it comes to teaching math and science to 3 and 4 year olds. Reports from both organizations indicate that the expectations regarding the concepts preschoolers may be able to grasp are greatly underestimated.

“Kids are so excited by math and science. Let’s take advantage of it,” says Kimberly Brenneman, assistant research professor at NIEER and science consultant for the PBS television program “Sid the Science Kid.” “No one has told preschoolers that they have to be scared by it or that it’s hard.”

Brenneman says there has been a lasting payoff for early childhood education in other areas, like literacy, so the same possibility exists with other subjects.

“Parents, in their desire to do the right thing, can get wrapped up in math and science but it doesn’t take fancy equipment [to do it],” says Brenneman. “Everything they need, they most likely have.”

Brenneman recommends being on the look out for learning opportunities within existing situations like playing with blocks. When your child is playing ask them why the blocks don’t fall over, or ask them what is on top or under something else, discuss which shapes work well for building. This will help them learn about spatial relationships and physics.

Kitchen and cooking activities lean toward talking about transitions in phases, for example, how a solid turns into a liquid. Take an ice cube out of the freezer and brainstorm about freezing and melting. Ask what can be done to make it melt? Ask if it can be made to go back? Toast some bread and talk about what happened to the bread and if it can be “untoasted.” There is also a chance to talk about math concepts when measuring out ingredients to make cookies together or deciding how many utensils are needed to set the table for arriving guests.

Brenneman reminds parents to have fun and get excited. She says not to worry about having every answer, but to explore and investigate together.
Opportunities to talk about math and science are everywhere around us. Sharing the language of math and science with your preschooler will prime their mind for future exploration as they enter kindergarten, and it will show them that you have interest in two areas that are a vital part of their future.

Janine Boldrin is a writer, mother of three and a military spouse.

Published: March 2011

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