Supporting Math and Science Development in our Infants and Toddlers
Before I begin sharing the benefits of math and science experiences for babies and toddlers, I must first come clean. I suffer from extreme math-phobia! It is a well known fact in our house my cut off point is long division, and with four teenagers taking math classes I can no longer pronounce, I’m frequently reminded of my limitations, and needless to say they were all very amused when I suggested I was writing an article about math ,for babies, of course!
Confessions complete, I am so motivated to share the importance of developing Math and Science in your home, and our early learning environments. We already know infants and toddlers are boundlessly curious, just like scientists. They love repetition, just like scientists. Toddlers, like mathematicians need to group things, size things, and of course, babies just love predictable outcomes!
So as parents and caregivers how can we support a baby’s natural curiosity and facilitate an enriching environment to prepare and propel them toward school readiness? Yep, school readiness begins actually begins in the womb. The latest research coming out of The University of Washington’s Institute for Learning and Brain Research, has shown that babies actually are able to discern their mother’s language starting in the womb.
This research affirms the significance of this critical period of brain development from zero to age three. Some moms, (including me) may say “Ah-ha!” finally the researchers are catching up to what we knew all along! Reading to our baby bumps, not as silly as it looks, and the importance of singing the “Itsy-Bitsy Spider”a million times a day; isn’t so itsy-bitsy now, is it!
Knowing what we do about early brain development, and infant’s inherent curiosity, how can we create an environment rich with experiences that reinforce math and science concepts? First, babies need to trust in their world, and in their caregivers. It is this confidence and security that supports the developing self-regulation needed for our infants to become proficient learners. Ultimately a foundation is formed for competency and success in all areas of development.
Parents are highly regarded as babies first teachers, and with that designation comes great influence, responsibility, and without question, immeasurable reward! Moms and dads can foster their baby’s curiosities, simply through observing them. Find out what interest your baby. Encourage exploration, by creating play experiences that spotlight math and science principles, and I promise, no long division required!
As you can imagine, math and science for infants and toddlers looks very different than you would expect to see in a traditional preschool classroom. For instance, when talking to a baby, math concepts can be related through conversations like this, “Look Haley, you have two blue socks, (touching toes) one, two.” “Your socks are blue like your cup.” Labeling and touching her two blue socks, and cup, will help Haley explore early math concepts; objects have properties. This discovery is important for the later science and math skills of classifying, grouping, numbering and sorting.
As your baby begins to trust in their world they begin to build their own self concept. Who they are, how their bodies work, and how they fit within their world. Predictability and consistency is key to help set the foundations for their emerging scientific and mathematical discoveries.
They learn from very early on to repeat actions that receive desired responses. It is our predictable response that creates connections and strengthens existing learning pathways in our baby’s brains. The National Center for Infants, Toddlers, and Families tells us that the optimal opportunity for creating connections in the brain happen from birth to age three. Simply, the more enriching or stimulating the child’s early learning environment, the more connections are developed, reinforced and maintained.
Knowing the “Why” leads us to the “How.” Beyond labeling Haley’s matching socks, how can we in our day to day set our children up for math and science success? Trust me, it is certainly not rocket science, yet the implementation of these simple strategies is an investment worth making. Listed below are basic math and science concepts and related engagements, creating a supportive resource for parents and providers alike.
-creating a predictable, yet flexible routine for your baby to count on.
-each time you pick up baby, you say the same thing, ex.”Up to Daddy!”
-each time you feed, snuggle with same blanket.
-have a consistent bedtime routine: we used to call it the 3b’s.”Bath, book, bed”
-choose a theme song, a “go to” tune, repetitive lyrics, that always catches babies ear. Mine is “This Old Man” (poor old man has been playing Knick -Knack Paddy whack for 20 years!!)
-read and play repetitious books, and games. (You’ll be surprised how soon children will start to anticipate the motions and sequences)
-ask questions during playtime, “What would happen if?”
-sorting objects of like shape, size and color.
-pace your day to allow babies time to explore surroundings with all senses, at their own pace.
-describe objects and their characteristics as you and your baby interact,
“Ooh, Jackson isn’t that blanket soft “as you rub it on his toes.
– Use language and point out similarities and differences in, for example, toys and blocks, as toddlers put them on the shelf during cleanup time.
-Provide opportunities for toddlers to sort objects according to a characteristic (“let’s find all of the red blocks?”)
-Provide safe opportunities for children to observe, explore and investigate natural objects (indoors and outside) such as crunchy leaves, fragrant flowers, and plants or time to observe (safely) animals, or fish in an aquarium.
-Provide materials for toddlers to explore and compare sizes (various sized cups in water table, or at bath time.)
-Use descriptive words to compare dimensions such as overall size, height, weight, or loudness.
Spatial relationships and shapes:
(Exploring the placement and properties of objects; and how they fit together):
-nesting cups, stacking blocks.
– Provide opportunities for mobile infants and toddlers to explore spatial relations (set up spaces/materials for them to climb in (boxes) on (mats, ramps), or under (table, tunnel).
– Use language to describe position relationships amongst materials using words such as “next to,” “on,” “under,” “in,” “out.” “Oops, the ball rolled under the chair.” “You put the blocks in the bucket!”,”Let’s get your bottle out of the fridge.”
Number and quantity:
(Exploring how much there is of something that can be measured):
– offer a variety of collections of objects for manipulating, organizing, comparing, and counting (rattles, books, cars, blocks, plastic rings, cups, etc.)
-Identify small quantities of items (“Paul has two shoes, one two.””Wow! you have three crackers, one two three”)
– Provide different sizes of containers and scoops during water and sand play.
– Provide opportunities for mobile infants and toddlers to experiment with full and empty. Count small numbers of items during play, or meal times.
(Exploring how items work together in one-to-one relationships):
– Provide an environment that contains a variety of objects that match up with another item (cow in the barn, hat on head, containers with lids, etc.).
– Point out one-to-one relationships during meaningful experiences (“here is one cracker for you, one cracker for me, and one cracker for Sophie.”).
Facilitate Experiments, cause and effect learning:
-add soap (tear free) to bath, encourage splash to make bubbles.
-experience mixing colors, in a bowl, or using a zip lock baggie for babies to squish.
-create sensory bottles (with secured tops), and noise makers with bubbles, bells, colored liquid, allow babies to manipulate to create movement, sound, sensory stimulation,
-add sponges to bath time, squeeze for water
-bang away with a wooden spoon on pots, and pans.
-facilitate expression and imitation at face to face, or mirror play
-explore (safe) temperature, warm, cool. Texture, bumpy smooth. Concepts, wet, dry
Science, and math aside, the overarching theme throughout each of these activities, is the positive, and consistent interaction between child and caregiver. Cognitive development and social and emotional health are inherently intertwined. I cannot stress that enough; the importance of nurturing, responsive, consistent, predictable care for infants and toddlers. So remember next time you’re at a restaurant, and your baby drops her sippy cup, and you casually retrieve it, then low and behold, she drops it again… yes, it is tempting to take it away, or become frustrated, but rather than that, choose to recognize your budding scientist, as she just recruited you for her latest research study! Take a cue from your cutie , and enjoy the immeasurable results!
Mary Stinar is our Celebree Laurel Bush Center Director. She is a seasoned professional, experienced in early childhood education, MSDE Office of Child Care Compliance regulations, developmentally appropriate practice, and she is committed facilitating a community supported and connected school family. Learn more