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Topic: 3-Year-Olds Can Do Math
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
3-Year-Olds Can Do Math
Posted: Jun 12, 1998 1:43 PM
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By Maureen O'Donnell, Staff Reporter

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

Jerry P. Becker
Dept. of Curriculum & Instruction
Southern Illinois University
Carbondale, IL 62901-4610 USA
Fax: (618)453-4244
Phone: (618)453-4241 (office)

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