Follow the leader
Even without prompting, young children constantly notice and use mathematical ideas.
“Stop, watch and listen to your child when they play,” says Professor Gervasoni.
It might be when they compare and measure shapes as they try to find a small toy beneath a pile of bigger toys.
Or when they pour a big vessel of water into a smaller one in the bath and it overflows.
Or when they talk about if the family dog will bark at the postman, or if the heavy rain might make puddles in the park (That’s probability.)
So given both parent and child are constantly engaging in everyday maths, what’s left to do?
Your role as a parent, says Professor Gervasoni, is to build on these situations by noticing, exploring and talking. And as always: having fun.
Along with Professor Bob Perry from Charles Sturt University, Professor Gervasoni helped to set up a mathematics program for children aged three to five with The Smith Family called Let’s Count.
She recounts a story from a parent who participated in Let’s Count.
“One afternoon, Dad comes home and puts his thermometer on the bench. When his four-year-old daughter asked what it was, her mother realised this was a moment to explore.
“She said ‘it’s a thermometer, you use it to find out how hot and cold things are - let's put it in the fridge and see what happens’. After they discussed how the temperature changed, the child suggested they put it in the freezer!”
This story, says Professor Gervasoni, shows the depth of children’s curiosity and how they can learn maths in everyday situations.
Maths at home matters
The data is in. In a review of the Let’s Count program, Professors Gervasoni and Perry found that when parents routinely take these opportunities at home, their children learn more maths than children whose parents did not take part in Let’s Count.
“The stronger the partnership is with parents from birth, the better children are positioned to flourish when learning maths at school,” says Professor Gervasoni.
While some believe certain people are ‘born good’ at maths, “the reality is that we are all capable of learning it,” says Professor Gervasoni.
“What’s most important is how any child’s interest has been nurtured from an early age,” she says.
“When a child expresses curiosity about mathematical ideas, this is the time for parents to recognise and nurture this.”