American children don't score as well on mathematics tests as their peers in many other parts of the world. Find out how to help your little ones build up their math skills.
Every four years the National Center for Education Statistics conducts the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), which compares US fourth and eighth graders to students in other countries. In the 2003 TIMSS study, US fourth graders scored above average on the math test but were 12th overall out of 25, placing behind countries such as Japan, England, and the Russian Federation. American eighth graders also scored above average yet placed 10th of 35 countries participating and were behind such countries as Hungary, Korea, and the Netherlands.
How can we improve these statistics and get our kids to improve their math skills? Start early! Children as young as seven months may already be developing abstract mathematical concepts—much earlier than once thought, according to a recent Duke University study by Kerry Jordan and Elizabeth Brannon published in the February 2006 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Wondering how you can help? Take a look at the following list of concepts and activities that are sure to make learning math fun for your toddler—before he even starts school.
Have cutouts of each shape in a variety of sizes. Have the child place the shapes on the correct paper. The child can also glue each shape to the correct paper.
Encourage using the shapes to create both concrete objects (people, trees, cars) and abstract objects (those that do not represent any known object).
The cards serve as a reminder and reference. The adult can list on the back of each shape card what the child finds for the particular shape. Review the list once the game is stopped.
From Beethoven to Van Gogh, your toddler can learn a variety of cognitive and creative skills from the great masterworks.
Two-year-old Junie sticks both fingers in her ears and closes her eyes. Then she makes noises with her tongue. Devon, a three-year-old boy, steps into a puddle and watches mud ooze over his white tennis shoes. Then he jumps. Mud splashes onto his clothes and face. Immature? Yes. However, as these children explore the world around them, they soak up information at an unbelievable rate. Did you know that a child's brain has two times the neural circuits of an adult's brain? Junie discovers new sounds with her experiment, and Devon learns how mud feels and moves. This is exploration; this is creative learning.
"No longer do we consider the first five years of life to be a vast cognitive wasteland during which [the] brain undergoes an arrested development. The neural networks by which all future complex learning will be based are forged during this crucial early period and by a specific series of vitally important brain processes." This excerpt, taken from the article "Early Brain Development and Learning," by Kenneth A. Wesson, Education Consultant for Neuroscience, explains that toddlers and preschoolers are capable of learning more than parents sometimes think possible.
The Masters, all those famous artists whose works deck the walls of prestigious museums, and the composers whose music graces the air in theatres around the globe, have much to share with youngsters. If we limit children to modern art depicted in cartoons and picture books, or expose them only to early childhood music with easily memorized lyrics, we withhold the greatest works (and at a crucial time, when our children's brains are most active). The art of Monet, Van Gogh, da Vinci, and the music of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, and Mozart are not too complex for youngsters.
"[Toddlers] are new to the planet," says Bette Setter, founder of the mobile art education program Young Rembrandts. "They have a big responsibility in decoding everything. Art and art images help children develop in their natural quest for knowledge."
With her students as well as with her own children, Setter notices that exposure to the arts at a young age makes children more aware of details. "They become whole thinkers," she explains. "And they keep the art images for life."
Sarah Herbert, early childhood teacher at The Center of Creative Arts in Missouri, explains that teaching children art and music through the works of the Masters encourages development of many skills. "When they are painting, they're becoming more autonomous." Herbert recognizes How can parents apply works of the Masters to early childhood education?
"The way a child thinks about her art is more important than the way you think about it," says Herbert. "Never impose limitations and never say, 'I'm not good at this.' It introduces fear. Never evaluate a preschooler's music, art, or dance. Make observations from fact. Say, 'there is a red circle,' or 'see these three red lines.' Evaluating may inhibit creativity or discourage a child."
The concept of children understanding art in their own way is not new. Charlotte Mason, a liberal-thinking educator in the late 1800s, wrote in her book Home Education, "We cannot measure the influence that one or another artist has upon the children's sense of beauty, upon his power of seeing, as in a picture, the common sights of life; he is enriched more than we know in having really looked at a single picture."
Parents cannot travel inside their child's brain and ensure that all the educational efforts they make are learned, stored, and applied appropriately. They can be certain, though, that introducing art and music, which have struck emotional chords in humans worldwide for centuries, will enrich an education. The developing mind of a child will soak up whatever it is surrounded with, so why not provide the best history and culture we have to offer?