Check out Engineering Explorers, our newest online resource!

Incidental Math

by Early Math Counts

It was months and months ago when I originally wrote about “Teachable Moments” and how to find them throughout the day.  I’ve been thinking a lot about how so much of the learning that happens in the early childhood world occurs in a happenstance way, rather than intentionally.  That does not mean that teachers of young children shouldn’t be intentional, they should.  But being ready when an opportunity presents itself is a strength of great teachers.

Math is all around us- we simply have to look for it.  Consider this scenario.

Johnny is playing at the sand table.  He is filling and dumping a small bucket of sand into a sand castle mold.  He presses the sand into the mold  and then flips it over and all of the sand spills out.  Bea, the teacher, comes over and begins playing beside him.  She too, fills a bucket with sand and then pours it out.  A few minutes into this parallel play, Bea asks Johnny about what he is doing.  He tells her that he is making sand castles. 

Bea sees an opportunity to use math vocabulary and spatial reasoning to discuss Johnny’s play with him.  She uses words like, “heavy and light” to describe the weight of the mold when it is full and when it is empty.  She talks about “turning over” the sand mold so that it is upside-down.  She asks if he prefers “a lot of sand” or “less sand” when filling the mold. She offers suggestions about how to make the sand stick together.  They fill the bucket with water at the sink and add water to the sand to experiment with making the sand stick.

This “incidental” math moment happens during free play.  Often, these opportunities occur and we miss them.  Keep your eyes open and look for a chance to deepen and extend a child’s play.  When seized, these moments are golden.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *