How to Teach Math

This article, Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them, has me thinking about a few things: teaching styles, learning styles, and "research".

This research cited in the article is showing that children are capable of mathematical problem solving at ages younger than people apparently expected.  What really made me stop in my tracks was this:

"In a typical preschool class, children do very little math. They may practice counting, and occasionally look at books about numbers, but that is about it."

Even in a creative, progressive classroom, math can be embedded and included.  Math is, of course, more than counting and looking at books about numbers. Math is about spatial relations, geometry, measurement, one-to-one correspondence, patterns, and more.  Math is naturally embedded in many typical classroom activities (indoors and outdoors), and it is the job of a high quality teacher to support children as they learn about math by using the maguage to describe their actions and providing opportunities for children to explore the mathematical world.

Does this mean children should do their artwork with number stamps, or color in photocopies pictures of teddy bears with numbers on their bellies, or sing along with songs about numbers on the stereo?  My opinion is no.  My instinct, with young children and math, is to provide children with natural materials to count; to provide them with opportunies to use mathematics meaningfully as well as through play; and to create a learning environment that presents math work at every turn: block building, painting, clay work, sewing, board games, and dramatic play.

I understand the value of children learning to label numerals, "count on" to combine two sets of materials, and being able to count objects accurately.  In a world where skills keep getting pushed down, I'm not surprised that formal math curriculum is being presented (and praised!) in preschools.  People really like data.  But schools do not need to be spending their much needed money on boxed curriculum.  The materials you need to teach math are all around you - anything, really - and (as I mentioned before) a quality teacher is supporting children's learning by talking, observing, and thinking about the next steps.

Of course, read the article for yourself.