Tuesday, January 20, 2015

How to Prepare Your Preschooler to Excel in Algebra and Beyond

We all want our children to excel at things that matter.  If you read this blog, you probably believe that math matters.  So, what are you doing to help your preschooler succeed in math over the long term?  Drilling arithmetic? Subscribing to the best possible set of worksheets?  

If your child is exceptional at the skills you drill with flash cards and find on worksheets, he might be able to add or even divide three digit numbers perfectly someday.  Do you know how much that skill is worth?  About $1 per year.  

Go down to your local dollar store, pick up any calculator, and it can add, subtract, multiply, and divide huge numbers, and will probably last for a year.

I want better skills than that for my children, and I am sure you want the same for yours.

How can you give your child the skills to succeed in algebra, calculus, and beyond? 

How to prepare preschoolers to excel in algebra and beyond

I will tell you one thing I have done for my preschoolers to prepare them to excel in math. Pattern work.  Lots and lots of hands-on pattern work.  I did pattern work with them, because I read education literature and advice from experienced pre-k teachers.  They all prescribe pattern work. 

Last week, it dawned on me why excellent preschool teachers do pattern work. I bet some of them do not even know. 

How can you be sure that you are giving your child the foundation he needs to excel in math for the long term? Here is what one physics teacher mom is doing.

"Hey, Mom, It's a pattern!"  I had just finished reading Eric Carle's classic, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" when my preschooler made this observation.  She continued, "One, two, three..", pointing to the foods the caterpillar eats.

"Yes, " I agreed, "How much do they increase each time?"  She thought for a moment.  


"So, it is a 'plus one' pattern?"

"It is," she answered, and her eyes glowed with the pleasure of knowing something valuable.

That is exactly what I want for my children.  It is what I always wanted for my students.  Witnessing that look in your child's eye is what I want for you, my readers.

No dollar store calculator could find that pattern. A computer might be able to recognize such a simple pattern, but only if it is programmed to look for it. The human mind can identify patterns it has never seen.  That's valuable.  That's fun.

Do you know how to write a "plus 1" pattern in math?  There are several ways.  y = x + 1 is one that you may recognize from algebra class.  When the time comes to study algebra, I think my daughter will be ready, because she is already familiar with the basic concept. Advanced math, such as algebra, depends on the ability to work with patterns. Preschoolers can practice that skill now.

Have I convinced you to try some pattern work with your preschoolers? There are many fun ways to work with patterns.  I hope to share some of them in the coming months. 

 Here is just one hands on  project to get you started. 

You will need string and some beads.  

How can you be sure that you are giving your child the foundation he needs to excel in math for the long term? Here is what one physics teacher mom is doing.

(If your child is still putting things in his mouth, opt for beads too large to swallow. Use your judgment for appropriateness and surprivise your child.)

  Let your child pick his two favorite colors, and make a necklace by alternating them on the string. Later you can move on to more complicated patterns.  If you are like me, you will be surprised how much your preschooler enjoys this simple task.

Invest your time in doing hands on pattern activities like this, and one day you may be surprised at how your child has excelled in algebra, or calculus, or research, or business, or medicine, or some field yet to be invented.

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I can't wait to hear what you have to say! Thanks for sharing.