This summertime math moment is brought to you by our Executive Director, Julie Marl, and her four-year-old that wants just one more math game before bed.

“Mommy, can we play MORE math?  Just one more before you tuck me in?” To be fair, my four-year-old son prefers to do just about ANYTHING rather than go to bed at night.  He wants more stories, more playing math, more books, more songs, more holding hands.  He’ll ask for pretty much anything to keep a parent in the room.

But playing math really is FUN for my little guy. And here’s my theory why: he’s getting direct attention from a grown-up while doing something he finds engaging.  For a four year old, there’s not a whole lot better than that, unless you add some ice cream into the mix.

We do plenty of “accidental” math: talking about numbers and shapes and concepts as part of our everyday activities.  On a sunny weekend day while running errands, it’s counting the number of cyclists we pass on our route.  Or it’s playing with shapes and the concept of fractions at the table with food and dishes: we trace with our fingers the rim of a bowl that goes round and round and round and never stops, while the fork is a line that stops at the end! How funny is that!?!  Silly fork! And we group and sort and create patterns with coins and beans and all the pieces from my husband’s deconstructed game of Risk.  And then we move and smoosh the piles with toy bulldozers.

Harry playing mathWe’re now entering a phase where we can actually sit down for a (short) board or card game.  Yesterday afternoon, it was the game Ladybirds by Orchard Toys (Ladybugs for those without a British house-member). It’s a simple game, with a six sided die and 24 cards.  On one side of each card is an image of dots corresponding to a roll of the die, and on the other side there’s a picture of either a blank leaf or between one and three ladybirds.  We roll, find a card that matches what we rolled and then get to see how many ladybirds each of us has won.  We’re silly and have fun rolling the dice.  We squeal and celebrate when either of us picks a card with a ladybird on the other side and we make all kinds of funny sad faces when either picks a card with no ladybirds.  And then we determine who gathered the most ladybirds. And we happen to be counting and matching and comparing quantities and taking turns and being good friends and giving attention to one another along the way.

Playing math is what we do, just as we’re reading and asking questions about how things work, and learning to express feelings, show compassion and care for one another.  We also watch TV, spend plenty of time playing in the dirt, and sometimes clean up all the messes we make along the way.

I believe we all start out as “math people”, just as we all start out with the ability to learn to read.  It’s important to keep the fun in what we do while building the basic foundation and attitudes that allow skills to be taught as kids are ready.

Go have fun and play some math!

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