I’m a literary girl; the daughter of an English teacher. My kids are eager readers, and hopefully that has been nurtured by my own love of reading and a million trips to the library. I am grateful that they love reading. And reading has led them to love learning – science, history, geography. They are naturally curious, as I think all kids are, and reading is a natural window into the world. But the one thing that I wish I would have paid more attention to, starting in their preschool years, was math.
Exposing Them to More Math
Of course we learned numbers and counted and did the basics, but compared to the flood of literature that came their way, there was only a fraction (so to speak) of the amount of math.
My kids like math so far, and it is fun to watch them learn. But the more I read about the need for today’s children to be math literate in order to perform the jobs of the future — technology, science, manufacturing and business are only the tip of the iceberg – the more I want to expose them to how math is used in the world.
So I started looking for ways to expose them to it. Private math “gyms” were not in the budget. Flashcards and workbooks yielded a total thumbs down from my kids, and considering how much homework they get in elementary school now, I really can’t blame them. Games on our tablet or on the computer are great, but I cringe at giving them more screen time.
Books About Math
Imagine my delight when I stumbled upon a book for kids about math in our local grocery store in the book section. Entitled I Wish I Knew That Math: Cool Stuff You Need To Know by Dr. Mike Goldsmith, it is a short chapter book that talks about everything math—from the history of numbers to the measurement of time. So I experimented: I left it in the back of my minivan and waited to see if my kids picked it up to read it. And guess what? They did!
I watched them take turns with it, and carry it into the house and read the facts and stories. What ensued was a hunt for books about math. The next book I found at Barnes and Nobel as my daughter perused the Harry Potter display. Amazing Visual Math is sort of like a “lift the flap” book but for math – equations, fractions, shapes and more. I left that one on the kitchen counter, and pretty soon they were flipping the pages and folding pyramids and using flaps to reduce fractions.
Books were the way to go.
My next purchase was made after my daughter asked me to define a math term for her, and I couldn’t do it! I used Google to answer her question (of course, right?) but it set me on a quest to find a math dictionary. And guess what? They really exist. I found two by Usborne Books: Illustrated Elementary Math Dictionary for younger grades and the Illustrated Dictionary of Math intended for middle school and older. It saves my brain when they ask me questions like “what is a factor” and other things that I seem to have conveniently forgotten.
Back at Barnes and Noble one day, I came across How to be a Math Genius: Your Brilliant Mind and How to Train It. Sort of like “The Big Book of How” or the “Big Book of Why,” this is pretty much the “Big Book of Cool Math.” It is a large and colorful book. If you have a kid who likes facts, this is super cool. In it, they learn about everything from who was Isaac Newton to how time zones across the planet work to how to fold 3-D shapes out of paper (which is sort of like origami for math). Once again, a total hit at my house.
Story Books, Too!
My next discovery was finding several story books that use math as a main character, of sorts. There are actually quite a few out there, but here are my top three:
- The Number Devil by Hans Magnus Enzenberger is a chapter book about a boy with vivid dreams who encounters the “number devil,” who introduces him to all kinds of interesting things about numbers and how they work. I actually checked this one out from the library, but my kids liked it so much I finally purchased a copy.
- Anno’s Mysterious Multiplying Jar by Masaichiro and Mitumasa Anno introduces kids to multiplication and the concept of factorials in a whimsical way, and has beautiful illustrations.
- Fractions in Disguise by Edward Einhorn is a mystery about a kid who loves fractions. My kids read all of these books over and over, and it is fun to hear them use math terms or watch them trying to calculate something based on what they have read in the books.
I love seeing the use of math in everyday life, and I want my kids to be math literate and comfortable with the use of math all around them. These books are a great start.