Number Smart


Neena Jacob

Numeracy skill is essential and your little one can pick it up so fast.

‘I am so small and mama is so big’ – Size concepts and comparison.

So that’s what it is all about, applying math concepts to everyday life. I remember the children were never happy with the way I divided special treats like chocolates, cake or cheese. In frustration I decided they would decide who divides the goodies while the other one will get to select. Bingo! What fun! Out came rulers, weighing scales and all kinds of measures to make sure that it was equal shares, down to the very last crumb.

Start when they are very young and building a vocabulary, which will help them perform well.

Counting Numbers: Let them initially get used to understanding that every number name represents a particular quantity. So, we can say ‘one nose, two eyes/ears/hands, and five fingers, etc.

To recognise numbers and shapes on clocks phones or books use a round ball, a triangle samosa or a square slice of cheese.

Let your child decide how many chapattis, biscuits, and slices of fruit he/she wants and let them count it. 

The next stage will be when measurement and size creep in their vocabulary.

They start comparing objects as big, small, medium and same size. Get them to arrange their toys according to size. So their blocks, balls, cars and dolls can be arranged and you can ask them to point out the biggest or smallest. Ask them to give the smallest to someone or point out the cars bigger than the ‘yellow car’

They group things as same and different. Oh the kitchen is wonderful for this! Vegetables that are green and vegetables that aren’t. What is used to poke (forks)/cut (knives)?

Use words to state position as over, under, next to, and so on. So you can give them instructions consciously using terms like ‘Give me the plate on the table’ or ‘Put the jar next to the green bottle’ or ‘Crawl under the table.’

Help set the table: They have to count the number of people and match with the plates so they will learn one is to one correspondence. They will learn to add or subtract objects according to the number of people.

Fill water bottles: Full, empty or half-full plus they can see how many glasses or cups a bottle contains, etc.

Help with shopping: This involves money, quantities, sorting and making a list and ticking objects off as the list is completed. Also help them see how the same thing is priced differently.

Divide food into equal shares: Like pointed out before all the measuring tactics come in –weight, length and volume.

Your child will gradually understand the practical aspect of math and develop a vocabulary which will empower him/her in the classroom. As a teacher, I realised English vocabulary had to be taught prior to a lesson. So often before addition, for example activities like putting together (making bhel) or adding like making a lime juice helped children understand addition and the allied terms. Your children will surely have an advantage over others.

On your part be quick to point out math relationships and encourage dialogue:

             Size (big or small): Is the watermelon a big fruit or an orange a big fruit? Stories like ‘Goldilocks and the 3 Bears’ or ‘Krishna’s antics’ also bring a better understanding.

             Height (tall or short and high or low): Mark on the wall the heights of your kids. Put a number to it. See who is tall and who is short, also see how high some trees are while the grass is so low.

             Weight (heavy or light): Help them use a weighing balance and weigh a potato against an orange or use actual weights to see what is heavy and what is light.

             Speed (fast or slow): Run races, reduce the speed of the fan, read about animals and compare. There are several stories too that will bring home these concepts like ‘The tortoise and the Hare’.

             Distance (close or far): Let them actually measure using footsteps or strides and tape measures as well.

             Order or position words like first, second and last.

Math is best caught if these activities are relaxed and playful so learning happens in a fun way and connects with real life.

My favourite anecdote about math goes like this. It was way back when WWF came out with cards and we teachers at school had a tough time. The kids were swapping cards and fighting over the rare ones and threats didn’t work. So we got together and decided to use this mania to improve math skills. So we asked the kids to bring any one card each day and we had a field day. All our measurement and comparison concepts were covered. For example we asked a child who had say a Hulk Hogan card to put all the data on the board like height, weight, biceps, number of matches played, number won, number lost, and we asked those who were over five kilograms lighter to stand up and see who was the nearest in weight. Who won more or less matches?

What a lovely class it was; the teachers now knew the heroes of the WWF world and the students were more math savvy.

Happy Parenting

(Writer is a volunteer in local schools and a trustee with Sethu)