Learning labs explore math for infants and toddlers

[img_caption src=”https://www.erikson.edu/wp-content/uploads/hynesberry.jpg” link=”https://www.erikson.edu/about/directory/mary-hynes-berry/” caption=”Mary Hynes-Berry” align=”right” alt=”photo of Mary Hynes-Berry”]Erikson’s Early Math Collaborative is partnering with the Ounce of Prevention Fund on an innovative initiative to help the youngest children develop their mathematical understanding.

Since January, Erikson and Ounce instructors have facilitated a series of learning labs for caretakers of children from ages zero to three. In the sessions, participants explored early math concepts tailored to infants and toddlers and built their understanding of the precursors of early math knowledge.

Professor Jie-Qi Chen and senior instructor Mary Hynes-Berry represent Erikson in the labs.

“We see an incredible need for this work, as caretakers of infants and toddlers often don’t see a connection between their work and children’s mathematical understanding,” says Hynes-Berry. “And yet mathematical thinking is foundational for all thinking. Research shows it’s the best predictor of later success.”

Sets and sorting begin in infancy

From birth, infants process the world through sensory perception — the way things feel, taste, smell, sound, and look. They sort what makes them feel comfortable and safe from what makes them unhappy or distressed. As a child grows, this logical sorting becomes increasingly precise, which turns into the language used to name the attributes of these perceptions.

“A child knows 100 words before she says one,” says Hynes-Berry. “Building categories in the mind is the foundation of language development, and categories are mathematical.”

The labs highlight the deep importance that talking to children has on the development of these concepts.

Tips to build math foundations

Hynes-Berry shared several tips for how caregivers can build mathematical understanding among the youngest children beginning with language.

  • Use a positive and encouraging tone of voice that shows you’re aware of the child’s individual preferences.
  • Define what you are doing aloud, with precision. While dressing a child, a caretaker might say, “Now we’re putting on your favorite red sandals. What hat do you want to wear? The floppy one with stars or the Cubs baseball cap?”
  • Using precise, engaging language can easily be done while eating, playing, or washing.

“The more we closely attend to young children, the more intentionally we can respond,” Hynes-Berry says. “These activities build habits of mind that lay the foundation for a lifetime of learning.”