Naturally Support Your Budding Mathematician

What comes to mind when you think of the word math?  Do you think of measuring, counting, time, or maybe paying the bills?  Most people tend to think of math as numbers, variables, or equations. In reality, math is so much more. It can be found everywhere in the world. I’m here to give you some tips on how to find it with your kids.

By definition, math is the study of patterns and relationships. Patterns are all around us. They help us make sense of the world. You might count the stairs in your staircase going up or down or notice the pattern in your windows or clothes.

Patterns are relationships that have some identified regularity in them. They can be seen not only in math but also in science, language, architecture, design, and art. The alphabet is a pattern, days of the week, months, years, numbers, words, sentences, stories, sorting items, shapes, sequencing, and growing patterns such as spirals or a staircase, and so much more. Math is really everywhere.  

The ability to recognize patterns and relationships is actually an innate quality. Babies can detect patterns from birth and have a natural desire to make sense of the world and create order.  This is why they are so good at recognizing patterns.

This ability is extremely valuable for being able to identify other types of relationships in more complex math. It is the foundation for arithmetic, algebraic thinking, geometry, calculus, statistics, and so much more. 

Patterns First, Numbers Second

Before kids can engage with numbers, they need specific processing skills that can be found in pattern recognition such as describing attributes, sorting, matching, comparing, and ordering.  How can you support mathematical thinking and pattern recognition at home?  While kids can naturally sort and recognize patterns, there are ways to expand and refine their skills. 

What Do You Notice?

It all starts with noticing. Kids are experts at noticing. They notice the tiny ant crawling along the kitchen floor, they notice the specks of dust floating in the air. What they notice is important.  Acknowledge it, validate it, take their lead and follow their interests. This will not only strengthen their sense of self and worth, but it will also instill a lifelong love of learning. As they observe, ask them: “what do you notice?”

Support Instead of Direct

Next, take the right perspective and approach. Mathematicians pose a lot of questions. Do you happen to know anyone who asks a lot of questions? Yes, kids! Kids naturally pose a lot of questions because they are naturally curious and want to know and discover it all  They want to figure the world out and make sense of it all!   Viewing math in this way, as more than just arithmetic and equations, can help you and your children learn to inquire, create, observe, use logic, reason and more just like a mathematician! 

Our goal should be to support our kids in the comprehension of concepts as opposed to getting correct answers.  This means that instead of giving explanations and answers, focus on questioning and prompting.  Take on the role of facilitator.  Be there to support and ask questions rather than to teach, direct, and seek answers to problems.  Children need more opportunities to exercise their natural creativity in all aspects of their lives, so why not with math as well? This is where play becomes so essential. Play evokes creativity, challenge, critical thinking, and so much more. 

5 Skills To Expand and Refine

Pattern recognition begins with these five skills: defining attributes, matching, sorting, comparing and ordering. These skills help kids develop a range of critical thinking skills and builds a foundation for solving problems. They are the foundation for higher level math. Below is the developmental sequence of understanding and how it can be supported at home. 

Two important considerations.  First, real world, concrete, natural objects are more meaningful to kids. Meaning equates to lasting learning. Second, children need someone to listen to their ideas, explanations, decision making process and engage with.  Look, listen, and ask so as to help them expand their thinking.

Find these 5 skills and how to incorporate them below: 

Identify and describe attributesNotice attributes of objects and develop language to explain their thinking. Notice details and be observantYour child notices sticks or leaves, flowers or rocks. Ask about similarities and differences. Have your child explain their thinking.  Do the same with objects around the house, toys, socks, blocks, Legos, etc. 
MatchingExplain the likeness of objects which develops a child’s reasoning skillsObjects in nature or house. Match by attribute: color, shape, size. Blue socks, white socks, red socks. 
SortingGroup objects with one or more attributes. Make decisions that involve higher order thinking by identifying similarities and differences. You might try pieces of fabric, shades of colors, types of patterns, 
Comparing Determine the amount of an attribute which objects have more or less. Develop comparative descriptive vocabulary such as larger, smaller
OrderingArrange objects increasing or decreasing amounts of an attributeDevelop comparative descriptive vocabulary such as largest, smallest

A Note For Babies and Toddlers

Do you like to sing to your babies?  Talking and singing to your babies has so many benefits but did you know that it could also support your natural born mathematician? Singing has verses and verses are patterns of language.  Try Head Shoulders, Knees and Toes. This song has a pattern. You and your kids can make patterns using various forms of movement.  Not just in this song but in one that you can make up. Try an ABC pattern of touching toes, nose, and spinning around. Start with simple ABAB patterns that progress to AAB, or ABB, or ABCD. 

Growth Mindset


Lastly, remember that math is related to reason, logic, abstract thinking, problem solving, and perseverance.  Mathematicians strive to solve problems and persevere through challenges. Build a growth mindset by acknowledging struggle, frustration, and failure as natural, healthy, and important for learning and growth. So be sure to talk to you children about the importance of learning from mistakes, the value of effort and hard work, and the importance of not giving up.  Praise efforts, not products and continue to encourage a growth mindset which is essential life-long learning 

Math, as all things in childhood is a developmental process and children as active participants in their lives should be given the freedom and flexibility to grow and develop in their own way and at their own pace. 

Some questions to keep in mind as you talk with your child:

  1. What do you notice? 

2. Can you explain how this pattern should go?

3. What comes next? 

4. What is wrong with this pattern?

5. Can you make your own pattern?

6. Look around. Talk about other patterns you find. 

Enjoy your math discoveries!

Please share how you find math with your kids below.

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