You know how you have one friend who played a huge role in your life at a very specific time, in a very specific way? Well, Cathy has done that several times for me. We first met when I was in graduate school and she was my teacher. She was all of 90 pounds and only knee-high to a grasshopper, but man-oh-man did she know a lot about early care and education. We both waddled into class that first night, clearly pregnant. Little did I know at that Cathy would not only be one of my lifelong teachers, but a dear friend, colleague, and confidant. For the past 18 years we have raised our children together, collaborated on several projects together (Early Math Counts is one of them!), and together we have committed to improving early care and education in the City of Chicago through the teacher education program at UIC (her) and the child development program at Harold Washington College (me).
See how she describes “signing” with her children. The first word they learned to sign was “more” – a great early math concept. She also describes authentic ways of incorporating math into their everyday activities, and although she doesn’t admit it here, both she and her husband are “math people” so she could have fallen into the trap of forcing early math rather than facilitating the organic development of math skills and concepts.
- Please describe how you are involved in the field of education.
Former preschool teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. For the past 20 years, I’ve been working in the College of Education at UIC preparing early childhood teachers.
- How many children do you have and how old are they?
I have two children ages 18 and 14.
- Describe your children’s early childhood experiences. Did they stay at home with a family member? Did they attend preschool or childcare? Did they attend a home-based childcare program, or a combination of the above? (If your children have not yet entered a childcare setting, please answer these questions for the future, i.e., What do you hope your children’s math experiences will be? What are your plans for introducing math to your children at home?)
Both my children attended two years of half-day preschool at a neighborhood preschool program.
- Describe your children’s exposure to math in their prekindergarten years both at home and at school.
In the preschool program, my children were exposed to Math concepts mostly through play (e.g. block building, pretend play, and group games). In small groups, the preschool program also included activities such as counting how many children were in attendance, setting the table for snack (passing out napkins, etc.), graphing and charting (e.g. who has a pet, number of sunny days versus cloudy days, etc.) counting how many days they were in school, and, of course, singing songs and fingerplays that included counting such as 5 little monkeys jumping on the bed, etc.
At home, exposure to math was mostly in the context of everyday activities. Before they could talk, both my children learned to sign “more.” And more, often meant more cheerios, more blocks piled higher etc. We had a set of large cardboard blocks that were frequently played with by both my son and daughter—we stacked the blocks to be “taller” than us, we circled the blocks around us, and we counted the blocks. We also sang the same songs and fingerplays about number and size (e.g. itsy-bitsy spider and great big spider) and read many books with math-related themes. Both my children adored a counting book called Doggies by Sandra Boyton (and if this were a literacy questionnaire, I would add it was the first book that both my children “read” themselves.) Counting was also a regular activity whether it was counting the stairs we were climbing up or down or the cracks on the sidewalk. We also had a family calendar where we count “number of sleeps” until special events (e.g. a birthday party or visit from grandma).
As my children got a little older, we played a lot of games with cards (e.g. war, uno), dominoes, and commercial games such as HI-HO Cheery-Oh and Candyland. I also recall making math games that involved more complex math concepts such as “adding on.” I also tried to model “math” by thinking aloud and asking questions, such as “hmmm, where doubling this recipe (usually play-doh, one of the few things I cooked on a regular basis) so we need….”
As high school students when they have a question about math homework, usually my husband or I could help them—but we both always modeled the idea that we have “noodle it out” and perhaps try different strategies to solve the problem and if needed, check resource information including model problems in the textbook or going online to see ways the problem can be solved.
- Knowing what you now know about raising and educating children, what worked well in your children’s early math experiences?
I think teaching math concepts in authentic settings worked well. The concepts, while abstract, had meaning to my children and I feel they were more likely to understand and apply them later.
- What didn’t work well?
I’m sure lots of things didn’t well in my child-rearing, but I’ve seemed to block that out.
- What would you have done differently at home?
Read more, spend more time playing together, enjoy the moment.
- What would you have like to have seen done differently in their prekindergarten settings?
Both my children loved their preschool experience, they loved their teachers and felt confident and competent during their first experiences in school – so I can’t think of anything I would liked done differently.