Can Mathematics be meaningfully introduced to young children? For any mathematical learning to take place, it has to be linked to the child’s experience. For example, he or she cannot find “2” meaningful until he has seen a pair of shoes or other things in pairs. In addition, for him or her to clarify the concept of “2”, he or she has to know that singles are not twos, nor threes, nor more. In other words, his or her knowledge of “WHAT IS” must also be linked to “WHAT IS NOT” experientially.
Children can learn mathematical concepts meaningfully (This is not referring to the chanting of mathematics concepts by rote). However, as educators we have to be mindful of the way very young children learn such abstract concepts.
Throughout the course I have learnt many significant concepts to teach young children. Like what our friend Jerome Bruner has said, “Concrete” and “abstract” have to tie hand-in-hand to carry out learning objectives.
My E-L-P-S of “Abstract Thoughts” in young children would be:
Experience: Children see, feels, and explore objects
Language: Math is not just numbers, models, children recognise spoken words representing their experience and abstraction of reality
Pictures: Children recognise pictures of these experience- another abstraction
Symbols: Children associate written symbols related to them.
Children learn mathematics better if they grow up in an experience-rich and language-rich environment. Their learning is also enhanced through the use of technology (graphic intensive and /or multi-sensory media.
On the whole, I felt that mathematics is not something which children can learn and acquire on the spot. It is through practice and practice again in order for concepts and manipulative skills be internalised. As educators, we must remember that problem –solving skills cannot be developed without a good grasp of the mathematical concepts manipulative skills. It is important to pace children, do not rush them nor allow them to rush.
The emphasis is on the process and not merely the answer. The development of the process takes time, effort and adults’ involvement.
In essence, children can learn meaningfully if the learning is meaningful to them!