My sister, that's who.
She's a total freak of nature, and I mean that in the most loving way possible. My little sister currently has her BA in Mathematics, is planning on getting her PhD in a couple of years, and is currently teaching a bunch of groaning high schoolers in the public school system....but while she loves to teach her first passion is math itself. Her love of math is freakishly strong; she loves it more than most people hate it. Case in point-
My sister has a math joke tattooed between her shoulder blades.
I know what you're thinking-yes there IS such a thing as a math joke, and YES she is the biggest nerd alive (even if her fellow math geeks consider her to be the 'inked rebel' among them). She's also a bonafide genius in the flesh. So naturally when it comes to teaching math to the kidlet's she's number one on my calling list.
I asked her recently what was the most important thing to teach little kids about math. Her answer? To be mathematical thinkers. Teaching children to think in mathematical type processes will help them succeed in their future math endeavors. Introducing concepts like "putting together" and "taking away" and "less than" "more than" and "equal to" introduce basic math skills to your children. It's very important to give small children opportunities to solve problems, to work with shapes, and to think in steps.
Does this mean it's time to whip out the math worksheets? Not unless you want to!
One of the best ways to help kids develop their mathematical thinking is by using manipulatives--or blocks, as my kids like to call them! Giving children blocks of different shapes and sizes gives them the opportunity to practice important mathematical basics like sorting, adding/subtracting/dividing/multiplying, and problem solving (how does one build a tower taller than themselves?). Blocks are, literally, the building blocks of mathematical thought process. The problem? It is nearly impossible to find a set of classic blocks these days. Lincoln logs, sure. Legos, sure-and of course those are great tools as well....but try to find a set of back-in-the-day good old wooden blocks and you're going to have quite an adventure on your hands! Trust me. The good news for you is I've already done the leg work and can tell you that the ONLY place I have been able to find a set of classic blocks is at All Children's Furniture.com. [Exciting news/disclosure: I am working on an upcoming review and giveaway with these nice folks~so keep a look out for that!]
Another great math learning activity can be found in origami. Origami teaches children to work with step by step instructions, recognize shapes and patterns, build on their spacial skills, and gives kids the opportunity to become the teachers (an important part of learning, called a "teach-back") when they share their Origami art with others. You can find instructions for a ton of fantastic origami items of varying difficulty levels at OrigamiFoldingInstructions.com.
One of my very favorite ideas is building birdhouses. Building a birdhouse combines spacial skills, shape and pattern recognition, step by step thinking, and problem solving skills and can easily be incorporated with science as well as art. You can find birdhouse building kits for right around $10. I found a fantastic site online called Birdhouse Villages Collections, which has very reasonable prices and has a small book collection of bird guides as well.
After talking with Her Royal Genius Queen of Math Nerdom, I am no longer apprehensive about teaching math-to tell the truth, I can hardly wait to get started doing all of these fun, math skill building projects-and we'll be doing lots.....we've got to make some for the grandmas and grandpas too! Fun, education, and Christmas presents from Monkey all in one?
Math IS fun! [Don't tell anyone I said that.]