Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mathematics and Preschoolers IV

Concept of Zero
I actually teach the concept of zero at the beginning of the school year.  With just a few mini lessons they begin to understand that "nothing" or "all gone" is represented with the number zero.  This concept needs to be understood so that when working with sets, addition and subtraction, they understand that 'none' is actually zero.

Humor and preschoolers go a long way!  Here is one little activity that doesn't take much time.  We usually do this as a group because laughter is contagious and the more we laugh the easier it is to learn (my opinion :-P).  I have my flash cards handy with a numbers less than 5.  I don't want large numbers here and you'll understand in a moment, it would be time consuming!  So a child chooses a card (I usually make a big deal about them "not peaking", gets us started on the right foot with laughter) tells the rest of us what number it is.  I often encourage them to trace it.  As a group we clap, stomp, jump it out.  Usually whatever action the child wants to do.  Then that child goes to the toy shelf and "makes a set" for that number.  He brings it back and we count it out.  After each child has done that I start asking, without cards, "how many" questions.  How many chairs in Ms. Amber's living room?  How many pianos?  How many windows?  How many doors?  Then I slip in a funny one.  How many elephants?  "What?!  There are NO elephants?  I was sure that was an elephant in my bed this morning.  (They all jump up to look.).  All dissappointed I say..."Oh, okay, you're right.  No elephants.  What number is that?"  Typically with little ones you have to tell them.  Show them the flashcard that has the number zero on it.  Then we keep going.  How many phones?  How many giraffes?, etc.

After this intro activity you can easily slip "zero" into many counting sets activities.  Use muffin tins with liners, write a number on the inside, include zero.  Give them a supply of manipulatives and have them put a corresponding number of manipulatives into each muffin liner.  Reinforce that 0 is none.

At the end of snack time, many crackers do you have now?  "None...I ate them all!"  Yes!  You are right.  What is that number?  "0".  You bet!

When you have a number/set display on the wall, be sure to include zero.  If you are creating number collages, put a 0 in there and encourage them to tell you that we won't be gluing anything on it because zero is "a big nothing" (That's from Leap Frog's, Math Circus DVD.)
Sorting , Compare, and Classify
Prior and along with learning how to pattern, it's important that children work with sorting, comparing and classifying.  It helps them begin to notice characteristics which will then lead to the ability of beginning to understand relationships between objects which will lead to patterning.

I find it important to be sure to use the terms sort and categorize.  I knew many children who could sort a set of objects once I began to show them what I meant but they didn't understand what the term 'sort' means.  And that is one term that will benefit them in knowing. Then we begin with sorting objects by one characteristic. Family chore:  have the children sort/fold towels or sort and match socks or sort clothes according to sibling.  Starting out, give the child a set with very obvious differences.  So perhaps you want to start with a basket full of buttons, keys, and toy cars.  This is a very easy set to sort by one characteristic and very young preschoolers can even succeed.  And that is what we want.  Help them succeed then give them a challenge once they truly understand what the task is.  When the child can easily sort a set of objects by one characteristic (size, color, shape, etc) then give them back the set and ask them to sort "a different way".  With all sorting activities, encourage them to tell you how they sorted it.  This verbal description can be difficult for preschoolers but with repetition of the question and helping them with the answer, they soon begin to understand what you mean and that brings them to a new level of thinking.  I also find that categorizing activities are a great way to teach math vocabulary.  You can talk about size (big/small), quantity (more/less), various characteristics, weight (heavier/lighter) and so on.  Provide many oportunities for them to work with sets of various objects.

I love our chip and dip trays for sorting.  Clearanced at holiday or end of season times, you can usually get them for close to a $1.00.  At the dollar store you can find all sorts of baskets and pans that work great for preschool 'work'.  I like to keep a supply of their metal cookie sheets and muffin tins for sorting, magnet activities and even use them for painting.  Also, to give a child a visual you can simply provide them with strips of yarn and let them make a circle around each of their sets. 

Items to sort:
*  Craft foam shapes:  sort by size, shape, and/or color
*  vehicles: type of vechicle, color, size
*  blocks: color, shape, size
*  buttons: colors, shape, size, hole/no holes, shiny/dull
*  old keys (start collecting, you can use keys for many projects/activities)
*  coins
*  stamps
*  rocks/shells
*  letter/number manipulatives
* crayons
*  snacks- give them a "trail mix" and then have them sort their mix before eating it.
*  putting away silverware from the dishwasher
* pom poms
* items of nature (acorns, pine cones, leaves, etc)
* rubber insects from the dollar store
* craft sticks
* stickers
* clothespins
* wood shapes and other craft supplies

I was planning on slipping in some pattern activities but I want to see if I have some pictures available for some of the patterning activities we've done in the past and time doesn't allow for that today.  I'll start with patterning with the next "mathematics and preschoolers" post.  :-)  Have a lovely day! 

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