By Susanna Schenk
As the leaves are changing colors and falling from the trees and the weather turns from sticky to cool, nature offers us many wonderful math lessons. Just as we read and talk with our children to build literacy skills, it is equally important to provide opportunities to explore various mathematical concepts beyond counting and numeric operations such as addition and subtraction. These discussions and experiences can provide a strong foundational understanding of our mathematical world. The vocabulary necessary to build math literacy is a vital component to a child’s comfort and success in developing a strong understanding of mathematical concepts. So, take this change in season to help build a strong mathematical vocabulary with your child. Use these suggested fall activities to help you get started.
Use the leaves that have fallen to discuss the following concepts:
• Symmetry – An object is symmetrical when one half is a mirror image of the other half, meaning both sides look the same. The line of symmetry is usually the steam in the middle of the leaf. Ask whether the lines or veins in the leaf are the same on either side of the leaf? How about the shape and color? If they aren’t exactly the same then they are not considered symmetrical. Have a treasure hunt to find the most symmetrical leaves. While looking for symmetry you can also discuss the following vocabulary words: fractions – whole, half, and quarters; horizontal and vertical lines.
• Attributes – Attributes are characteristics of an object such as its shape, size, side, or color. Collect a few different leaves and have your child compare the leaves’ attributes. What do they have in common and where are the differences?
• Estimation – An estimate uses information to give an approximate amount close to the actual number. Estimation is not guessing; rather it is taking the facts you have to make an informed answer without being exact. When raking up leaves you might want to estimate how high the pile will be. Start with a small pile and show the size and the area it took to make that pile; then, looking at the rest of the leaves you have to rake, help your child try to figure out how high the pile will get. This also offers opportunities to discuss measurement vocabulary such as yards, feet, and inches.
Use a trip to get a pumpkin to help your child understand:
• Comparison of Quantities – Comparing amounts is the foundation of mathematical operations. Terms such as equal (=), greater than (>) and less than (<) are used across the math curriculum. In addition, asking how many more (or less) of one item is there than another is just as critical to understand. Here are some questions you can ask to help reinforce this concept:
o Compare the attributes of the pumpkins. Which weight is greater? Which one is larger? Which is taller? Which two do you think will be equal?
o How much more does one cost than the other?
o How many more pounds is this pumpkin than the smaller pumpkin?
o When carving the pumpkin take out the pumpkin seeds and count them into groups of ten. As you are making the groups ask, “How many more are needed to make a group of ten?” Once they are all in groups of ten, practice counting by tens to find how many total seeds there are. If you have a few seeds left over show your child how to count onward – 70…71, 72, 73…
Most importantly, just take the time to talk about math whenever you have the chance because as Shakuntala Devi said, “Without mathematics there’s nothing you can do. Everything around you is mathematics. Everything around you is numbers.”