Friday, December 30, 2011

Who Counts?

Who’s counting? Is it the toddler who pulls a sock on each foot? The three year old who cries “Eight, seven, ten! Here I come!”? The preschooler who announces that there are eleven racing cars when there are really only ten? Or the kindergartner who carefully and correctly counts a long row of pennies?  The truth is, all three of them are counting. They’re just at different points along the way.

In fact, it’s now known that even fairly young babies are aware of numbers.  Some research has shown that babies can tell when the number of objects they’re looking at has been changed.  Toddlers, too, are beginning to figure out mathematical ideas. They might be too young to say counting words, but they clearly understand that valuable math concept called the one-to-one principle.  They realize that you can only put one shoe on each foot. And you might see them give a knowing grin when they wave a toy in each fist. Older toddlers often enjoy handing one cup to each person in pretend tea party.  In the preschool years, you’ll probably hear your child using number words.  But at this stage, as anyone who has ever played hide-and-seek with a young child knows, they often don’t have a clue as to the order to say them in. 

Herbert Ginsburg in his book Children’s Arithmetic writes that one of the problems in learning to count is that “...people are very fussy about how you say these words. You have to say “four, five, six”; you cannot say “four, six, five.”  Children become confused: what’s wrong with “four, six, five?” Aren’t they exactly the same words as “four, five, six?” Ginsburg compares it to learning a song with meaningless words. From a young child’s viewpoint, the whole thing is made more complicated by what happens as soon as they’ve figured out “four, five, six.” Along comes “seven, eight, nine.” Then “ten, eleven, twelve.”And on and on, all in a particular order.

Every young child starts out by counting in a mixed-up order.  Rather than worrying about such typical mistakes, expect them, and continue to have fun counting aloud together.  Your child will eventually pick up on the standard order just from counting along with you, over and over again. After a while, children begin to make the connection between the number words they’re saying and objects to be counted. Your child watches you count and realizes that often you touch things as you say the words. So she tries it, too. Sometimes she skips an object, though, and sometimes she touches it twice. All young children make these mistakes. Figuring out how to attach numbers to things takes lots of time.  Years, in fact. Counting ten red triangles is a lot more complicated than finding two mittens for your two hands.  But maybe that’s why children find it so interesting.
The best thing you can do is support that interest. Remember that children will keep on trying when they’re not worried about making mistakes. Give your child lots of informal and playful opportunities to count along with you. Count the stairs at the Museum as you go up or down. Count blocks while you build or balls as you roll them down ramps. Count the buttons on his sweater as you fasten them.

Who counts? Your children do--no matter what their ages are. So wherever your child is in the process of learning to count, enjoy it together.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Get Those Duck in a Row

Maybe your child’s got her stuffed animals all lined up from biggest to smallest. Or maybe he’s told you that his best friend can jump almost--but not quite--as high as he can, and that another friend can hardly get off the ground. If so, you’re an eyewitness to the emergence of an essential math skill, one that your child will have plenty of opportunities to explore at DCM: seriation.

Seriation means arranging items according to how much of a particular quality they have. We seriate by size, weight, volume and many other characteristics.

Why is it important for children to develop seriation skills? Seriation builds young children’s understanding of number concepts: Which item comes first? Which comes second? It helps children make sense of math by learning to think about information in a systematic way and to understand patterns.

It’s something adults do automatically, but young children have to figure out. It takes time. Children who have just grasped the whole idea of size, for example, will find the concept of degrees of size pretty complicated. If they see four red blocks of various sizes, they’ll be likely to pick out only the largest and the smallest at first. In fact, many very young children understand size seriation best in familiar terms—daddy, mommy, big kid, baby. Gradually, with time and experience, arranging objects in serial order becomes easier.

On a visit to the Museum, you might see your child investigating seriation as she fits one cup inside another while playing in WaterWays, listens to louder and softer sounds in the Room for Rhythm or compares his shadow to yours in the Shadow Playground.

At home, there are lots of everyday opportunities to explore seriation with your child. As you sort laundry, your child might decide how to arrange three socks from shortest to longest. Add more lengths as he becomes better at it. Then suggest arranging them from longest to shortest. If your child is having fun with the idea of seriation, you can also play with:
  • Height: Line family members up from tallest to shortest.
  • Color: Pick up sheets of paint chips at the hardware store. Cut them in strips and play a game of arranging them from darkest to lightest.
  • Thickness: For a snack, slice a banana in varying thicknesses.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

More About Those Amazing Unit Blocks!

Blocks and Science
In a world of plastics and other synthetics, children rarely have the opportunity to understand where their toys originated. Unit blocks, however, are made of wood. And wood, of course, comes from trees. It’s the kind of simple scientific fact that can be as amazing to a young child as, say, realizing that carrots grow in the ground or that hens lay eggs.

Blocks also give children experience with scientific knowledge that’s more abstract. Remember from the last blog that “slanty-thing” the horses needed for walking in and out of the barn? It’s a simple ramp, of course. But the concepts discovered while playing with a ramp aren’t nearly so simple. Like all block play, they include complex ideas like gravity, force, balance, and energy. In a word: physics. Along with the unit blocks, DCM’s Ramps and Rollers Exhibit in the Make It Move Neighborhood allows further exploration of these concepts.

Blocks and Math
What’s a child to do when she runs out of the size block she needs to finish her horse’s stall or castle or house? She can’t call up the block store and order more. What she does do is reach for another size, quickly realizing that two half blocks are the same length as four quarter ones. Like any competent builder, she’s working with counting, addition, measurement and, of course, fractions.

The math learning doesn’t stop there, however. There are geometric shapes--squares, rectangles, triangles, half-circles, and even cylinders in a complete set of unit blocks. They give children a chance to experiment with part-whole relationships, and other important math concepts such as patterning, ordering, and classifying.

The next time you’re visiting the DuPage Children’s Museum, take a closer look at the wooden blocks in Make It Move and the Block Area. You’re looking at a set of learning tools. Simple, plain, and solid. But definitely powerful. And fun.

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Plain Blocks = Deluxe Learning

A toy not decorated with TV characters or bright colors? No blinking lights? No microchip? Nothing that wiggles or twinkles or giggles? Why would kids want to play with something like that? And yet, they do. They play with blocks. Plain, wooden ones. Many early childhood educators say wooden unit blocks are the one piece of play equipment they wouldn’t do without (e.g.

For many children, exploring the Block Area on the second floor is one of the highlights of visiting the Museum -- complete sets are usually too expensive and large for home use. A good set of blocks and another child or an adult to enjoy them with is an unbeatable combination. Here’s why: When kids are constructing something with blocks, they’re also constructing knowledge. The result? An increased understanding of language, science, math and much more.

Blocks and Language
Watch a small group of children building a barn for toy horses. As with most construction projects, problems arise:

“We don’t have enough of this size to finish the stall.”

“We need a place for our horses to get a drink. It’s called a trough. I saw a real one once.”
“Yeah, horses need stalls, and troughs, and a slanty-thing to walk on.”

Talking about their structures stretches children’s language abilities. New words, like “trough” and “stall” are tossed back and forth with ease. And because it’s necessary, they find words to describe problems. They listen to each other’s suggestions. Clearly, conversation thrives in the block corner.

But talking isn’t the only way that blocks encourage language development. The barn made of blocks represents a real barn. It’s a child’s way of translating an idea into something visible, a symbol of a barn. Playing with blocks can help children strengthen their ability to use other symbol systems, too -- such as written language. In fact, it’s not unusual for children to want written signs on their block buildings. Sometimes they invent their own, and other times they seek an adult’s help. “Horse Barn: Cows Keep Out!” was the warning these barn builders asked their teacher to print.

In addition to language skills, children who are building with blocks are also building a foundation for understanding science and math. More on this topic next week!

Guest Blogger: Sally Nurss, M.Ed. has worked directly with children, parents, and teachers for over 25 years. She is a former preschool director and also a DCM Early Childhood Specialist. Sally and her husband, Jim, now own a bookstore, Our Town Books, in Jacksonville, Illinois.