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Mini-Pumpkin Math

There's math in here.  I know it!

There’s math in here. I know it!

Jenna(4) has been working on taking a large quantity of objects and organizing them to make the objects easier to quantify.  (See here for more info.)

Today she practice that skill using mini pumpkins.

How many pumpkins are there?

How many pumpkins are there?

One solution would be to line them up and count.

One solution would be to line them up and count.

Or you could make "five flowers" with pumpkins.

Or you could make “five flowers” with pumpkins.

Organizing mates it easier to visualize. Twenty Six!

Organizing makes it easier to visualize.

Can you see in one glance what the answer is?

Show me a picture of 10

My four-year-old's explanation of "10".

My four-year-old’s explanation of “10”.

Here’s an easy math activity to do with your preschooler.  Ask them to draw you a picture of what the number 10 looks like.  (A smaller number would also work.)

My daughter needed help tracing her hands and feet, and I helped her draw the first set of tally marks, but the thinking was all her own work.  Her picture shows five different ways to represent ten: with words, numbers, tally marks, toes and fingers.

So really, is this a picture of 50? 🙂

Repetition would make this activity boring.  (The last thing I want is for my daughter to think math is boring.)  So it’s a good thing there are infinite ways to experience numbers.

A ten triangle.

A ten triangle.

For example, check out the 10 triangle Jenna made last week with Right Start Level A!

Learning to add with a math balance

A math balance is a fun way for kids to develop number sense.

A math balance is a fun way for kids to develop number sense.

My daughter Jenna is 4, and is in the middle of completing Right Start Level A.

Here’s some fun we had this morning “playing math”, using our math balance.  This isn’t from a specific Level A lesson; it’s just the two of us making things up. But this will give you the idea of how you can use a math balance to help kids develop number sense and computation skills.


First, your child puts weights on the numbers you are adding.

First, your child puts weights on the numbers she is adding.

Next, your child counts on fingers to get her answer.

Next, your child counts on fingers to get her answer.

Finally, check your answer on the balance.

Finally, she checks her answer on the balance.

Fun, right? Our balance is from our Right Start kit, but you can also purchase a Number Balance on Amazon.

Does Your Two Year Old Know the Quantity 3?

In case you are wondering, I’d offer a hesitant yes to this question regarding Jenna(29 months). She correctly identifies quantities of three about 80% of the time. There is no way she is ready to move on to four yet, despite her ability to “count”, i.e. rattle off numbers without correspondence. I got a pretty accurate understanding of where my daughter’s thinking currently resides, by trying out lesson 1 from Right Start Level A. You can download the first few lesson plans yourself for free and give it a try with your own two year old.

I wish I had known to try this experiment with Bruce (6.5) when he was two, because of course I’m now uber-curious what his thinking was back then. When did the quantities three and four really solidify for Bruce? When will they solidify for Jenna? The Psychology major in me is going to be periodically checking to figure this out. Looking forward in lessons 2 and 3 of Right Start Level A, the other two abilities to monitor are A-B-A patterns, and sorting.

The reason why I decided to investigate all of this to begin with, was that I have just finished reading Keith Devlin’s wonderful book The Math Instinct: Why You’re a Mathematical Genius (Along with Lobsters, Birds, Cats, and Dogs). This book was well written, meticulously researched, and thought provoking. The final chapters reaffirmed everything I learned about Constructivist math in my professional development as a teacher. The research he presented about young infants understanding the quantity of two was especially fascinating. I had previously been proud of Jenna understanding the quantity two. Now I realize that’s no big deal!

I’m going to continue on reading more of Keith Devlin’s books. I’m not a “mathy” person myself, but he writes in a way that is easy to understand… even for someone who hasn’t studied Calculus since 12th grade.  🙂