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Help your children learn to love math before it's too late

Esther J. Cepeda on

It doesn't have to be this way. Math ability is as intrinsically available to everyone as breathing or eating.

Brain-science researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently observed that babies as young as 14 months old seem to recognize that counting is about the dimension of numbers. Young kids don't generally understand the meanings of words like "two" and "three" until they hit preschool age. Writing in the journal Developmental Science, the researchers concluded that counting "directs infants' attention to numerical aspects of the world, showing that they recognize counting as numerically relevant years before acquiring the meanings of number words."

This is not totally groundbreaking work -- it builds upon a body of research that has plumbed the depths of how much number sense humans are born with.

For instance, some infants can distinguish between images of 10 and 20 dots.

I'm no baby researcher, or math expert for that matter, but science also knows that nurture has at least as much influence on human development as nature. The missing link between babies' innate math skills and some elementary school students' hatred of math (sometimes lasting a lifetime) could be as simple as how much their parents practiced number sense with them.

As the National Association for the Education of Young Children puts it, "From the moment they are born, babies begin to form ideas about math through everyday experiences and, most important, through interactions with trusted adults. Language -- how we talk with infants and toddlers about math ideas like more, empty, and full -- matters."

They don't usually tell you this in birthing classes, do they?

 

As with virtually all other positive early-childhood habits -- making eye contact, pointing out patterns, making comparisons (like big and small) and modelling responses to simple questions -- parents with higher educations and incomes just seem to know to do this with their children without being taught.

Do this old math teacher a favor: If you're anywhere near a baby or child, do some simple, positive, stress-free number talking with them, such as counting the stairs as you walk up or down. And whatever you do, never, ever say you "hate" or aren't "good at math."

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com or follow her on Twitter @estherjcepeda.

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

 

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