I Like Pumpkins- Post #6: Numerical Connections

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When you read up on early childhood education (ECE), there is a lot of talk surrounding literacy and numeracy (I intend to do an overview of ECE jargon in a future post). Numeracy, in a nutshell is being literate about numbers. While traditionally there has been a big focus on mathematics, we know that children can start understanding numerical concepts at a very early age, and that deep understanding of concepts will hopefully lead to better success with mathematics later in life.

I am more inclined towards language arts so the way that I interact with H in our day-to-day life naturally highlights those aspects. Numbers and math do not come as naturally to me so I have to make more of an effort to think about how I can incorporate opportunities to focus on those elements. With this activity I wanted to deepen H’s counting skills and introduce her to measurement.

H has never done a worksheet. You have to understand that in the way I was trained, worksheet is almost a bad word. So I designed my own “worksheet” (I use the term loosely here) as a way to not only improve upon her (visual) literacy skills, but to provide a place to record information.

I chose three everyday objects and drew a quick picture of them. Instead of telling her what the objects were, I asked her to identify them (she thought my pen was a crayon and that’s okay). I asked her to find the objects in our house and bring them back to me. This was a fun mini scavenger hunt and in an attempt to introduce more french into our day-to-day lives, I shared the french names of the items with her.  We then used pumpkin seeds (our unit of measurement) to measure length.

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We had a conversation around what is longer or shorter; whether more seeds were needed or less and the consistent orientation of the seeds. H really enjoyed this experience and wanted to keep measuring. So this time I asked her to identify three objects she wanted to measure. On the back of the sheet I quickly drew them and she started measuring.

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I took a more hands off approach, curious to see where things would go. She ended up measuring around the fish and the pom pom so I introduced words like perimeter and circumference.

If you were to ask her what those words meant today, she would not know. But by labelling things then, I have created a tangible memory she can refer back to the next time those concepts come up. Also, by adding a physical/sensory aspect to math and counting, it has impressioned her brain differently than simply talking about numbers (an abstract concept) would.

Ideally I would have left the container of seeds for her to explore on her own in the coming days, but I ate all of them. Blame the baby.

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I Like Pumpkins- Post #4: Hammer Time!

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Not only was I excited about this part of our pumpkin work because MC Hammer’s lyrics kept running through my head, but I was really excited to get my little girl her first real tool! This idea was actually inspired by something H did in her preschool class this year (and then I realized it was all over the internet too!)

This activity basically consists of providing children with a big pumpkin, golf tees (or any other kind of safe peg) and a hammer. I know some people are weary about handing off hammers to their toddlers. If you really want to play it safe, use a toy hammer or a wooden block (I say this begrudgingly), but I strongly recommend you allow them to handle authentic tools and materials. Not only will the experience be more authentic, but it will affect how they view themselves – hopefully as competent and intelligent learners that can be trusted with real things.

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Show them how to use it first. Hold their hand a few times, guiding the motion it required. Talk to them about the level of force that needs to be used. My daughter was having trouble holding both the pegs, and the hammer, so I held the pegs for her (while quietly praying she wouldn’t smash my fingers).

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While a five-year old may be able to do this independently, I stayed close by, providing active supervision. H was excited to try this but didn’t do it for more than ten-fifteen minutes. At the preschool, there were children who hammered in nearly 100 pegs being super engaged in the process.

This activity can be extended by showing the children how to remove the pegs- either manually, or by using the back of the hammer to wedge them out. In addition to fostering fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination and self-esteem, this experience can be used to augment numeracy and math skills too. You can  give the children elastic bands to stretch over the pegs in different shapes (like a geoboard) and explore geometry as well as count the number of pegs used (this is a great time to practice counting in a second language!)

I purchased this child-sized hammer at the Home Depot for less than $8.00. My husband was a little bit confused about why our then two-year old daughter needed a real hammer but I’m sure we will do more projects with it over the summer. You can buy golf tees in the sports department of any store, or if you need to be frugal, post an ad online or visit a golf course and ask them for any loose golf tees they may have lying around.

I can also happily report that H has taken an active interest in tools over the past few weeks. Not only has her fondness of Paw Patrol and Animal Mechanicals contributed to this budding interest, but she has been engaging with a dramatic play tool set and asking us the names of the various tools as she has seen lying around the house. Further fostering her interest in using tools would be a good application of emergent curriculum.