Toddlers might not be able to tell you this, but they can add, subtract and recognize numbers. This is true for children as young as 3, regardless of socioeconomic group, according to groundbreaking new research from the University of Chicago.
Make talks with kids count
When your kids whine "Are we there yet?" use it to work on their math. Parents can try to enhance their children's math abilities in everyday conversation, University of Chicago research shows.
Parents should gently introduce numerical ideas, "not to drill them but to make it meaningful to them," said Professor Susan Levine.
Here are some of her tips for older kids:
* If your child asks "Are we there yet," say: "We have 100 miles to go. We're doing 50 m.p.h. How many hours do you think it will take?"
* Youngsters can learn coin values by paying for ice cream, and symbols for numbers from a deck of cards. Introduce division and fractions. Say: "You have six cookies and three friends. How will you divide them so everyone gets the same amount?"
And for younger kids:
* Count the windows in your house together. Talk about the number of Cheerios on their tray. When setting the table, ask your child how many napkins you need. If you see a couple of motorcycles, count: "One, two."
* Relate actions to numbers. Say: "Jump five times; clap three."
Youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds might not have the language skills to answer verbal math questions, but they can work out problems when teachers use objects instead of verbal cues, say psychology Professors Susan Levine and Janellen Huttenlocher and a former colleague, Nancy Jordan.
The period between ages 3 and 4 is crucial as children's notion of numbers becomes more abstract. An example is when they connect sight and sound, grasping that three objects have something in common with three drumbeats.
Levine, Huttenlocher and former graduate student Kelly Mix tested youngsters and found:
* As children approach age 3, they begin to develop nonverbal calculation. Researchers showed youngsters two black discs and then hid the discs under a box. Next researchers let the children watch them slide a third disc underneath. The researchers gave children a pile of black discs and asked them to make an identical pile. Kids correctly made a pile with three discs.
* Children as young as 3 can do more abstract calculation. They were shown two black discs, which were then removed. Shown cards with different numbers of discs, they correctly picked out a card that also had two discs.
* At age 4, children begin to develop more abstract number concepts. Upon hearing two drumbeats, but no verbal instructions, most 4-year- olds were able to pick out a card with two objects.
"All children see sets of objects in the world and they see those sets of objects added to and decreased by operations like eating," Levine said. ``What varies among kids is the amount of talk'' about numbers.
*********************************************************************** Jerry P. Becker Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction Southern Illinois University Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA Fax: (618)453-4244 Phone: (618)453-4241 (office) E-mail: JBECKER@SIU.EDU