Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Early Numeracy: Big & Little


The concepts of greater than and less than are very important within the field of mathematics.  Surprisingly, children almost instinctively understand these ideas from early on.  Kids see that one group of things is bigger than another.  They easily recognize that having two cookies is better than having one cookie (unless, of course, the one cookie is the world’s largest cookie).

But sometimes we need to stop and count or measure things to figure out exactly which is bigger.  When we follow through by counting or measuring, we are verifying what we may have only guessed.  This is how the scientific method works!  See how math and science work together?  When we help kids by modeling this behavior and talking with them about the math ideas, we are helping them grow a bigger understanding of how things work.

Here’s a fun little family activity for building an understanding of greater than and less than:
  1. Gather everybody in your home and measure heights along a wall by putting up a piece of masking tape for each person.  (you can measure pets or stuffed animals, too)
  2. Write each person's name and age on the tape using a marker.
  3. Work together to figure out:
     
    a. Who is the tallest person?
     
    b. Are any people the same height?
     
    c. Is the oldest person the tallest?
     
    d. Is the youngest person the shortest?
Here are some fun ways to figure out the answers to the last two questions: First, rearrange the pieces of tape in order from shortest to tallest and then have each person stand in front of their name.  Then, rearrange the pieces of tape in order from youngest to oldest and then have each person stand in front of their name.  Did the order change when you sorted by size or by age?

There are so many opportunities for introducing the concepts of greater than and less than during daily conversations.  Next time you are at the dinner table, try counting the pieces of food on each plate and figure out who has the most pieces.  Or, try counting the number of pockets on you and your child’s clothes to determine who has the fewest.  When kids play around with measurement and amount ideas, they are able to make meaningful connections that will help them master harder math concepts once they are in school.

Here is a short list of some of my favorite books dealing with size and quantity:


Title: Bear Wants More
Author: Karma Wilson
Illustrator: Jane Chapman

Bear wakes up after his long hibernation and he is hungry!  He keeps eating more and more, but he is still hungry.  The idea of more is one of the first math ideas kids grasp.  Here's a great followup question for this book: Who ate more, Bear or his friends?
Title: Big, Bigger, Biggest!
Author: Nancy Coffelt

This is a fantastic introduction to greater than and less than!  A series of animals help describe all sorts of measurement ideas like "big" and "small," "fast" and "slow."
 Title: Biggest, Strongest, Fastest
Author: Steve Jenkins

Superlatives like "fastest" and "strongest" are detailed along with really cool little charts that show how the animals stack up in comparison with humans.

Title: Guess How Much I Love You
Author: Sam McBratney
Illustrator: Anita Jeram
Find this book at your library

"I wish I had a million dollars!" ... "Oh yeah... I wish I had a billion dollars!" ... "Well, I wish I had a billion plus one!"  This adorable book wrote the story on one-upping!
Title: Higher! Higher!
Author: Leslie Patricelli
Find this book at your library

A little girl swings higher and higher, exploring many different heights until she flies right out of this world!!
Title: I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean
Author: Kevin Sherry
Find this book at your library

A giant squid shows off all of the things that he is bigger than before declaring himself the biggest thing in the ocean.  Unfortunately, he hasn't met the whale yet!
Title: Just a Little Bit
Author: Ann Tompert
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger
Find this book at your library

Elephant wants to try out the seesaw, but nothing seems to happen when his friend Mouse sits on the other side.  A whole zooful of animals help out until Elephant finally rises.  A great introduction to the idea that one can be greater than many (in this case, Elephant weighs more than lots of his friends together).
Title: More
Author: I. C. Springman
Illustrator: Brian Lies
Find this book at your library

A magpie keeps filling his nest(s) with more and more junk!  His friends finally help him learn when enough is enough.
Title: Stuck in the Mud
Author: Jane Clarke
Illustrator: Garry Parsons
Find this book at your library

A farmyard tries to pull a little chick out of the mud.  But just how many animals does it take to get him free?
Title: Tall
Author: Jez Alborough
Find this book at your library

A small chimp gets a little help from his friends in order to become tall.  This is a terribly fun introduction to ideas of relativity.




photo by Ellen Levy Finch

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