Going beyond “One, two, three, four…”: Early mathematics learning in family child care

Children are natural mathematicians. They are born to investigate and explore the world, constructing knowledge and ideas about math based on their own observations and experiences.

All Our Kin child care providers play an important role in supporting young children’s innate curiosity in mathematics through everyday interactions, experiences and routines, supported by caring and trusting relationships.

Here are a few examples of All Our Kin providers and children learning and exploring mathematics. In the early years, children learn five essential math concepts: numbers and operations; shapes and spatial relationships (geometry); measurement; patterns, relationships and change; and collecting and organizing information.

Janette experimenting with flour.

Here Janette is experimenting with flour. She is observing, measuring, dumping and filling while making playdough. Her child care provider helps her see the similarities and differences and talks about what she is doing. She asks questions and uses math words like “more,” “less,” “empty” and “full”. These experiences with a trusted, caring adult support Jannette’s beginning understanding of simple measurement. Over time, they will grow into a more advanced understanding of mathematical concepts such as size, weight, and volume.

Analyzing data in order to figure out which rocks are best for filling Ricky’s shoes.

“How many rocks can fit in this shoe?” asks Juan. Ricky is becoming familiar with shapes and spatial relationships as he puzzles out the arrangement of stones. He is analyzing data in order to figure out which rocks are best for filling his shoes. With help from his caregiver, Juan, he is learning characteristics of each rock and comparison words like “more” and “less” or “bigger” and “smaller.” These “math” words lay the foundation for beginning math learning.

Classifying

Kamaya has plenty of items to study, grab, and group together based on color or shape. “It’s not solely about counting and adding,” says Paula, All Our Kin’s Senior Educational Consultant. “Math involves other concepts like classifying, sequencing and patterns.”

Will and Carter are dumping, filling and then sorting by type.

Will and Carter are experimenting with cereal, acorns, and beans. They are dumping and filling and then sorting by type. As they gather and sort, they are practicing their classification skills. One day, Will and Carter will use these early experiences in more complicated math operations, such as geometry, algebra and measurement.

As Jayleen crawls through the tunnel, she is experimenting with how her body fits in space and what the world looks like from a different perspective.

“Hello, Jayleen!” Infants and toddlers use their whole bodies to explore and learn. They can understand what you say to them before they can speak themselves. Jayleen’s provider describes what Jayleen is doing even though Jayleen can’t “talk” back. She includes words like “over,” “under,” “into,” “out of,” “forward” and “backward”—all vocabulary that will help Jayleen make sense of spatial relationships. As Jayleen crawls through the tunnel, she is experimenting with how her body fits in space and what the world looks like from a different perspective. These movement experiences support her spatial sense and her later understanding for geometry and numbers.

At All Our Kin, we’re committed to providing family child care providers with knowledge and strategies to guide young children in their exploration of mathematical ideas. We’re excited that our a new grant from the United Way of Greater New Haven will allow us to deepen our work on early language and numeracy in family child care. You can learn more about the work the grant will support here.