No. Don’t teach your baby math. Seriously. But do expose your baby to interesting things that spark her curiosity and allow you to observe her explore. And if you can do that with mathy things, why not?
Luckily for me, I have an 18-month-old niece to play with. While her mother was absorbed in a game of Othello with the 6-year-old (that mathy gift was a hit!), I sat with her at the kitchen table so she could eat her snack. Frankly, I was a little bored watching her eat her snack. She didn’t gobble it down like I would. She took her time. So, I pulled out a mathy toy.
You might not think to play dice with a toddler. Of course, regular dice are choking hazards and it wouldn’t be wise to use them. There are plenty of larger variations, though, that are wonderful toys for curious kids. I pulled out my little bag of Math Dice, Jr. and spread the large dice across the table in front of the toddler. And then I sat back to observe what she would do.
She stacked them. She put one of top of the other until she had three stacked. Then she stopped. I tried to get her to put a fourth on top, but she would have none of it. Maybe she sensed the imminent toppling of the tower that might result. So I changed things up…
I spread all the dice out in front of her again, then turned each one so that the “1” side was facing up. The toddler looked interested. She reached out and pointed to the single dimple on one die. I said , “Yes. One. One dot.” She continued to point and push the dice around. Never did I get caught up in talking about the numbers on the dice, though; she’s not ready for that. Instead, I simply set them up in what I thought were interesting configurations and then watched her react and interact.
Then her uncle walked by, picked up all the dice, shook them, and returned them to the table before walking away again.
She was not put off by this (certainly not as much as I was!) She covered the dice with her hand, shook them on the table, and removed her hand. Then she smiled. We shuffled the dice around a little more, and then she lifted her arms into the air, looked at me, and clearly said, “UP.” So we left the table to find other things to play with.
(Mathematically…You can use play to set the foundations for curious and creative math inquiry. You’re doing it already anyway, right? Playing with your child, that is. Play is seriously important. Whether you’re playing with your toddler or playing with your tween, the lessons learned during these interactions stretch far beyond math. Remember, too, that these interactions are not isolated, but they build on each other. Every time she comes over, I will pull out those dice and she may – or may not – do something new with them. Not long from now she may be able to roll them and group them into “same” and “different.” At some point, she will start counting the dots. Before heading off to kindergarten, she will be familiar with subitizing them (knowing how much without having to count.) But, if I do this right, she will never think that Aunt Pam was trying to teach her math…she’ll just know that Aunt Pam always had fun games to play.)