Monday, April 16, 2012

Math Literacy

Some people say that Math is a language of its own.  It has its own vocabulary, its own set of rules, and it takes a special skill set to master it.  Yet, Math isn’t always promoted like reading as a target for early literacy.  While parents are reading to tots at home and going to the library as a family fun activity, Math is often still seen as a chore.  Reading is synonymous with cuddles, read-alouds, and high-interest stories.  Math is seen as homework, boring, and difficult.  What if Math was given a make-over?  What if Math could join reading in the cuddly cozy bedtime routine?  I started reading about this phenomenon recently, and wow, it makes sense!  (See websites like Bedtime Mathfor more details.) There are a lot of simple ways to introduce Math, take away the stigma of boring, and build even the youngest children into mighty mathematicians.  And by the way, YES call your Lil One a mathematician as well as a reader.  This really does improve Math confidence. 

What is Math Literacy?  More than just reading about Math, Math Literacy is developing Math skills to be used throughout life.  Much of our early reading skills are developed before we are able to read independently, vocabulary, phonics, letter recognition, and recognition of patterns in books are all examples of early literacy skills.  What are some Math Literacy skills?  Early Math Literacy is developed much like early Reading skills.  Short songs and rhymes, Number toys and games, books, number play, and talking about Math are all important to develop Math skills.   By ages 3-5 children will already start to show emerging signs of Math literacy, such as being able to:
  • Recite numbers
  • Count objects
  • Recognize patterns and shapes
  • Compare sizes
  • Use Math vocabulary
Before entering into kindergarten, most children will be able to count and recognize numbers 1 to 20.  How can we support them as parents and teachers?  How can we make Math fun and interesting?

Math vocabulary is one of the first ways that you will begin teaching Math Literacy.  Using numbers, size, and shape descriptors can be integrated before babies and toddlers even begin to talk.  Once your Lil One has started their Math vocabulary, it’s time to start practicing that vocabulary using games and number play.  We play I-Spy using shapes everywhere we go.  My Lil Guy practices looking for shapes on pretzels and tortilla chips.   You can do the same thing comparing sizes of everything from trucks and cars out the window of your car, to comparing shoes sitting in the front closet.  Remember Math is everywhere.

Counting and Simple Number Operations are easy to integrate.  Try including this in your bedtime routine: count the pieces of clothing as you take them off before your bath (1 sock, 2 sock, 3 shirt, 4 pants, 5 underwear).  You can also talk about Math as you read your before bedtime books.  Try counting on fingers for the youngest mathematicians and continue to build on this routine counting by twos, fives, or tens.  For older children, try one of those bedtime math websites, play flashcard games between bedtime reads, or challenge each other with math teasers.  Make it fun though, and talk about it together.  In our house, since dinnertime is family time we try to integrate Math during meals.  We count grapes, compare sizes and shapes of all different kinds of foods, and again we talk about it.  

More Ideas from Beth @ Library Chicken: Try cutting fractions of sandwiches, comparing 1/2 to 2/4. Also, playing games such as Pokemon cards, which are good both for letter recognition and for counting, because the card game involves counting by 10s.
I love this idea!! My Lil Guy loves games and I agree playing games is perfect for Math Literacy!  I think games such as Hi Ho Cherrio really do reinforce Math skills.  Hi Ho Cherrio is just one that we play.  It is all about subtrating and add numbers 1 to 10. Perfect for toddlers up to 1st grade!

Finally, I have to mention that many children’s books  offer fun spins on Math.  Readers of all ages can enjoy a book while sharpening their math skills:   
  • For toddlers try to introduce Math and counting with these books: The Five Little Monkeys Series from Eileen Christelow, Couting Kisses  by Karen Katz, Five Green and Speckled Frogs by Constanza Basaluzzo,  and Ten Dirty Pigs/Ten Clean Pigs by Carol Roth.
  • For older Kindergarten to Elementary School aged children, try these Math themed books: Math Curse by Jon Scieszka, Zero the Hero  by Joan Holub, If you Made a Million by David M. Schwartz, and The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins.
  • Update: I wanted to add this suggestion from Beth @ Library Chicken: Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, Sir Circumference and the  Dragon of Pi, both by

I hope this got you thinking about Math Literacy as much as it did for me.  Please share any additional ideas YOU have for ways to share Math with children in the comments.  I will add additional book suggestions, additional resources, or ways to share early Math Literacy with children into the post.


  1. I loved doing math with my boys! Other games we played: early fractions from cutting sandwiches in halves or quarters; as they get older you can ask which is more -- a half sandwich or two quarters?

    We liked the book Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and the sequel about the Dragon of Pi, which is good for early elementary age. My boys got into Pokemon cards during their preschool years, which was good both for letter recognition and for counting, because the card game involves counting by 10s (my oldest could add tens before he could reliable add single digits).

    In the car we'd play the license plate game -- add the numbers on the license plates you see. Or I'd toss easy math problems at each kid (often in a desperate attempt to change the subject from Pokemon...).

  2. Oh, I love the card games idea, How cool that your son learned a skill while playing a favorite game!

    I have added your ideas into the post!