Check out Engineering Explorers, our newest online resource!

Welcome to the start of my year of blogging about math: Let’s begin with collections!

by Diann Gano, M.Ed

I am so honored and excited to be the Math at Home blogger for the next year! I love math, and I love watching math happen with children every day. My goal for the next year is to avoid how high and fast our children can rote count. I want to build the deepest, strongest foundation for learning and let the children build their own house of math on that foundation. I hope to give you a collection of pictures from my own program, quick-reading ideas, some great books to find at the library to build on the literacy skills and math understanding and a question to get some dialogue going about math and kids and life. We want to immerse them in math environments without worksheets or set times for math. It will come naturally, through play. I promise to keep it fun and easy.



Let’s start with a quick look at the brain. We know that the right brain develops first. It is really busy building our children’s imagination, creativity and intuition for the first three to four years of life. The left brain starts to kick in developmentally at about the age of seven. It gives us logic, language, literacy, numeracy. The right brain is full of sensory, play, relaxing. I like to think of it as RIGHT BRAIN=RECESS. That left brain over there…whoa, that looks like school/office to me. My own students are in the right-brain zone, age-wise. They are playing with rocks and friends, being creative and using their imaginations while learning how the world works. I really like recess, just like I did when I was five. So let’s stay out here in recess land for as long as we can! It will build the foundation for that school/office side of learning. I promise that play really will get us ready for the left-brain part of life. So, let’s get started!


Do you have a collector in your midst? That small child who can turn a five-minute walk into a 15-minute treasure-discovering adventure? You know, that child who slows us all down to look at the world below our feet or above our heads?  I love these kids. They make me crazy, wrack my nerves and raise my blood pressure, but they also make me slow down, take a breath, smile and find beauty in the oddest of places. And they make me smile really, really big, when I remind myself that this is the gold treasure chest of math’s foundation.

At the Ginkgo Tree, we are full of collectors!  We collect lots of nature’s loose parts like acorns and buckeyes, feathers and rocks. But we also collect colored gems, bottle caps, keys and other oddities. THIS, my friends, is the rock solid, hands-on, building the foundation of great solid math brain that we look for in early childhood play.

If it attracts their attention, and they touch it, they own it. They own their learning at this moment! Grab a bag, basket or bucket and take a walk and see what speaks to your children. A good pocket is priceless. Keep your phone in your own pocket and give your child the gift of time. What treasures do they find? What captures their attention? Do you need to mentor collecting? Keep your eyes out for heart rocks. We love a good heart rock, and it’s a great pastime when waiting at restaurants or appointments. Hidden in those landscape rocks, there is sure to be a heart rock!

When you return home, dump those treasures out. Before we can begin to count our collections, we need to figure out which are acorns and which are bottle caps. This will come very naturally as a child sorts the acorns into one pile, the bottle caps into another. We can sort into groups, we can arrange by size, color, shape, texture or weight! Remember, back in kindergarten and first grade, these were referred to as sets. Before you could count sets, you needed to separate into sets. If your child hit the jackpot on a particular item, you may wish to give it a special home. Perhaps a small box, a canvas bag, a Ziploc bag or an egg carton. These treasure are chock full of math potential.

Regardless of how high a preschooler can rote count, a child’s sense of what those numbers actually mean develops gradually. We call this “understanding number sense,” and it requires relating numbers to real quantities.

Young children have an inborn sense of more and less. What is fair or equal? Who has more ice cream, acorns or toy cars? They know! Children learn math sense by working with small sets of collections. Math sense refers to relating numbers to real quantities. Slow it down and let’s work on small groups. One to three objects for the wee ones, five objects for our preschoolers. If the grouping of sets leads to counting, try moving each object and giving it a number. Number sense is the ability to understand that the quantity of the set is the last number name given in that set. By making counting hands-on fun, children are learning place value and addition. Take it slow and keep it fun. Children will be exposed to the idea that the same collection can be sorted in different ways. Sets can be flexible. (Ugh oh, I saw your math brain go to sixth-grade math, where sets started getting a bit confusing. Pop out of that left brain! Get back here in recess!) Math is being taught a whole new way. They are removing that obstacle, your left brain might not have learned this new way, so relax and just sort the rocks!  Remember, not all skills come in a certain order. They will come at different times for different children and in different learning styles. It will come. Baby steps. Strong foundation. Let’s stay out for recess and enjoy the ride.

So, that’s it. Collect some treasures and we will meet later in the month and start putting those collections into play. In the meantime, head to your local library, neighborhood bookstore or Amazon and cozy up with your child for some great books on collections!  Amazon is easy, fast and convenient, but we want to keep our book resources alive in our neighborhoods!


Left-Brain Adult Lounge

I would be absolutely terrified if I knew how many hours my brain has tried to come to terms with my students playing with…bottle caps. Beer caps, specifically. Craft brewers are knocking out some crazy creative bottle caps! They are fabulous for sorting! I DESPISE branding and have removed most of it from our program, so am I branding alcohol preferences to my three-year-olds? Is this early math politically correct?  Am I totally overthinking this? I asked the parents of the students for guidance. They looked completely baffled and said, “I know you have thought this out, and you must have good reason for it!” If they only knew. So, I observed the kids as they separated the caps by features (dogs, colors, whatever popped out at them.) They can’t read. The letters are foreign to them because, remember, that’s left brain and their brain development isn’t there yet! I grew up next to a state park, and I collected bottle caps as a kid. They clinked like coins, they were easy to find, carry in a pocket and sort into categories.

I flip, I flop, I struggle. Somehow, bottle caps always win. And here’s why:


Numbers and Letters!




I kid you not!  How funny is this?


Same but different!

HELP! What are your thoughts on this topic?  Am I overthinking all of this? Do I justify all the goodness of a bottle cap?  Apologies in advance, if this sends havoc to your brain space on the ethics of early childhood education! Have a great week!



6 Replies to “Welcome to the start of my year of blogging about math: Let’s begin with collections!”

  1. I really like the idea of using items from nature for classification and patterning skills. You used pine cones, nuts and leaves. Other suggestions would be: acorns, seed pods from the sweet gum trees, avocado seeds, and mango seeds. Matching a variety of leaves by shapes would also be a great activity.

  2. I really like the idea of using items from nature for classification and patterning skills. You used pine cones, nuts and leaves. Other suggestions would be: acorns, seed pods from the sweet gum trees, avocado seeds, and mango seeds. Matching a variety of leaves by shapes would also be a great activity.

Leave a Reply

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