Teach Object Differences for Early Math Skills

Visual discrimination helps tots become math aware

woman and son pointing at toy cars
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Young children learn best through play activities with interaction and plenty of hands-on fun, so it suits them to learn early math concepts through toys and common household objects.

The concepts of "difference" and "sameness" will be used in later school years in math in both visual and word problems. These concepts are critical first steps in learning to classify objects based on their visual characteristics. You can begin to introduce these concepts in kindergarten.

Your child will learn the concepts non-verbally before she can talk about them verbally. If your child is showing signs of learning disabilities or developmental delays, learning activities can support his concept development.

Young Children Enjoy Brief Play Sessions

Whenever you teach your child during play, it is important to stay positive and keep it brief. Teaching any one skill works best during play sessions of about 10 to 15 minutes at a time, perhaps two or three times a week. Being spontaneous and flexible can make learning a natural part of play. Watch your baby and take cues from her on when it is time to change to a new activity or for a rest. She may look away, appear disinterested, show signs of being tired or become cranky when she needs to stop learning activities.

This should be bonding time as well as a learning time for both of you. If it becomes unpleasant or you feel yourself being apprehensive about her progress and perhaps wanting to push her, it is time to stop. She needs to learn at her own pace, and you will need to be responsive to that.

Use Hands-On Materials to Teach Concepts

Use pop-beads that are about four inches wide as a way to introduce these ideas to young children. Use other suitable objects such as stuffed animals, toy balls or toy cars, if you do not have the beads or if your child prefers other toys. You can also make your own multi-sensory materials. These hands-on learning materials are fun for children and tap into visual and language-based learning that engage the different ways students learn through their senses.

Work together at a table or on the floor. You can also do this activity as you are completing tasks like grocery shopping or waiting for appointments. Use objects around you to show your child as you talk about the concepts. Magazines, catalogs, objects in rooms and scenes outside windows offer many opportunities to show differences and similarities.

Focus on One Concept at a Time

First, begin working on sameness. It is a concept that is often grasped earlier and more easily. Keep it fun as you sort and divide the beads into groups, first by color. As you talk with your child, tell her the beads are the same color. Emphasize the word "same." As she enjoys and explores the beads and interacts with you, pick up a bead from a color group and ask her to give you another bead that is the same.

Wait a bit if she needs to think about it. If she needs help, smile and continues to keep the activity fun. Pick up another appropriate bead and show her how they are the same. Work with these concepts using the color groups, usually red, blue, yellow and green for the pop-beads.

When your child is familiar with the concept of sameness, it is time to begin working on differences. Follow the same strategies you used for similarities. If your child has ongoing difficulty with the ability to visually discriminate between colors, consider talking with her pediatrician or vision care professional for an examination to address any potential vision problems.

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