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The Right Way to Teach Math

The prime purpose of being four is to enjoy being four — of secondary importance is to prepare for being five.
Jim Trelease

In his article, "Math in Early Childhood," which forms the basis for the Exchange Out of the Box Training Kit by the same name, Francis Wardle talks about the right way and the wrong way to teach math to preschoolers...

"Studies show that children who play with unit blocks in early childhood do better in algebra in middle school.  But it’s important to note that the outcome of playing in the block area is not demonstrated until middle school!  Math standards during the early years will automatically focus on low level, rote skills: memorization, repetition, and adult views of math knowledge.  What makes this most destructive is that young children are operating within Piaget’s preoperational stage, which means they cannot think logically.  Thus, bureaucrats creating standards and assessment often include things that children this age simply cannot even do....

"Math knowledge and dispositions are not created in a vacuum.  Math is about manipulating things: objects, shapes, concepts, and relationships; reproducing and documenting the world; and constructing, building, and estimating.  The Reggio Emilia philosophy and the Project Approach understand this clearly.  Thus, we must provide a myriad of opportunities for young children to have direct, concrete experiences in the real world.  What is the value of discussing the speed of light if you don’t understand light?  Seeing snow accumulate day after day is a real way to understanding increase in quantity.  Carrying a large boulder teaches about mass; swinging on a rope about force, angles, and speed.  Field trips, extensive classroom projects, exploration in nature, extensive use of the playground, observing the weather, etc., must all be central to our math curricula."

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