How to Throw a Holiday (number) Gathering

If the house isn’t smelling of cinnamon and hot coco, then you’re missing the perfect opportunity to blend math with some really engaging holiday activities. And best of all? These fun activities can lead to a deeper understanding of numbers.

Numbers are everywhere – they even manage to sneak into the holiday season. 12 Days of Christmas, 8 Days of Hanukkah. Kids (and kids at heart) count down the days during this festive season. Holiday parties, the arrival of that jolly man in the big red suit, the festival of lights – I’m sure your littlest one is partaking in the “holiday countdown” as well.

However, here’s an interesting fact. According to Beth Casey, a professor emeritus of applied developmental and educational psychology at Boston College:

"Many young children can count from 1 to 10 without understanding the meaning of the numbers they're counting."

So, what does this mean?

Counting does not = Number Sense

Number sense is an intuitive understanding of what numbers are, how they work, and what you can do with them. When your child has number sense, your child will have the ability to play with numbers, flexibility, in their minds. They will be able to deconstruct numbers, and perform mental math equations with relative ease. It’s a true understanding of the quantitative value a certain number represents. Many small children often know the name for the number, but not its numerical value.

In the study from Boston College, mothers supported their child’s math skills in three different ways: helping with counting, identifying written numbers, or labelling the size of different groups of objects.  The preschool students who were supported in quantity labeling did better than the children who were only supported with counting and number-naming.  Many of the quantity-labeling children had a superior addition and subtraction skill-set well into the first grade.

So, what can you do?

Have Holiday Gatherings

Not the kind that involves Grandma and Uncle Fred, but actually engage in family holiday activities that support the gathering or grouping of objects.  This may sound like a holiday episode of “Hoarders”, but we assure you, grouping and combining objects enables children to visualize the number in a concrete manner.

Enjoy making gingerbread houses? Filling the house with the smell of gingerbread, and decorating your very own house can actually be great math practice over the holidays.  Before decorating, group the decorations (i.e. marshmallows, gumdrops, candy canes) into small groups of 5-10.  Have a math chat with your children, ask how many there are in each group while you decorate.  Encourage them to find the right answer on their own.  

For older kids, measure the sides of the gingerbread, and measure the decorations, and calculate how many marshmallows, for example, you can line your epic gingerbread house with.  Is your child learning multiplication?  Group the same decorations into multiple piles, have your child explain the multiplication process  –  3 gumdrops * 3 gumdrops * 3 gumdrops = 9 gumdrops.  That’s 3*3=9!  Encourage your children to cut the gingerbread into different shapes, and ask them to identify the shapes.  Your kids will be proud of both the gingerbread house, and their mad math skills. 

Have Fun

We can all agree that the holidays are filled with “things” – gifts, christmas ornaments, candles.  This presents (no pun intended) the perfect opportunity to quantify objects.  Have fun with this.  I mean, who doesn’t love to group their presents into a wonderful, glittering pile?  Math is a game. (We certainly think so).  Enabling your children to see the fun in mathematics creates a rich learning environment, and a chance to see numbers, and quantities, in their everyday lives.  

The tantalizing smell of holiday cooking is the product of ‘math at work’.  Whether you realize it or not, cooking involves mathematics – measuring, addition, fractions, proportions.  If you have a favorite holiday recipe, make it with your children.  Combining ingredients, doubling and halving recipes  – these are fantastic opportunities for your child to exercise those math skills.   Click here to learn more about how to integrate cooking to your child’s early math development.  

Happy Holidays!

Holiday (number) Gatherings  will help build your child’s number sense over the holiday break.  But don’t stop there! There are countless ways your children can build their number sense using various tools and participating in everyday activities.  You can enjoy these number building experiences all year long.  But for now….

We wish you Happy Holidays, from all of us here at DragonBox.

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