Too Young To Count

23 12 2009

I came across this little article about kids and the learning processes they go through and was immediately attracted to it. Sadly though, it was NOT a pleasant read.  This may start arguments with some of you Teachers out there, but please know that that is not my intent, I simply have a different idea on teaching young kids.

The story below starts out focusing on 4 year olds and how they learn. Ok, here comes the part where I start getting opinionated… “Why is it so hard for us to let kids be kids for awhile”? I personally do NOT see the advantage of having a child at 4 years of age being able to count or do simple Math tricks. Let the child be a child. In addition to that, I also would much rather see kids outside playing than to see them sitting in front of a computer or a video game for hours on end. So if you know a 4 year old that can count, tell them that Uncle Gio says… “I’m not impressed”!

Gio-

Studying Young Minds, and How to Teach Them

BUFFALO — Many 4-year-olds cannot count up to their own age when they arrive at preschool, and those at the Stanley M. Makowski Early Childhood Center are hardly prodigies. Most live in this city’s poorer districts and begin their academic life well behind the curve.

But there they were on a recent Wednesday morning, three months into the school year, counting up to seven and higher, even doing some elementary addition and subtraction. At recess, one boy, Joshua, used a pointer to illustrate a math concept known as cardinality, by completing place settings on a whiteboard.

“You just put one plate there, and one there, and one here,” he explained, stepping aside as two other students ambled by, one wearing a pair of clown pants as a headscarf. “That’s it. See?”

For much of the last century, educators and many scientists believed that children could not learn math at all before the age of five, that their brains simply were not ready.

But recent research has turned that assumption on its head — that, and a host of other conventional wisdom about geometry, reading, language and self-control in class. The findings, mostly from a branch of research called cognitive neuroscience, are helping to clarify when young brains are best able to grasp fundamental concepts.

In one recent study, for instance, researchers found that most entering preschoolers could perform rudimentary division, by distributing candies among two or three play animals. In another, scientists found that the brain’s ability to link letter combinations with sounds may not be fully developed until age 11 — much later than many have assumed.

The teaching of basic academic skills, until now largely the realm of tradition and guesswork, is giving way to approaches based on cognitive science. In several cities, including Boston, Washington and Nashville, schools have been experimenting with new curriculums to improve math skills in preschoolers. In others, teachers have used techniques developed by brain scientists to help children overcome dyslexia.

And schools in about a dozen states have begun to use a program intended to accelerate the development of young students’ frontal lobes, improving self-control in class.

“Teaching is an ancient craft, and yet we really have had no idea how it affected the developing brain,” said Kurt Fischer, director of the Mind, Brain and Education program at Harvard. “Well, that is beginning to change, and for the first time we are seeing the fields of brain science and education work together.”

This relationship is new and still awkward, experts say, and there is more hyperbole than evidence surrounding many “brain-based” commercial products on the market. But there are others, like an early math program taught in Buffalo schools, that have a track record. If these and similar efforts find traction in schools, experts say, they could transform teaching from the bottom up — giving the ancient craft a modern scientific compass.

Beyond Counting

In a typical preschool class, children do very little math. They may practice counting, and occasionally look at books about numbers, but that is about it. Many classes devote mere minutes a day to math instruction or no time at all, recent studies have found — far less than most children can handle, and not nearly enough to prepare those who, deprived of math-related games at home, quickly fall behind in kindergarten.

“Once that happens, it can be very hard to catch up,” said Julie Sarama, a researcher in the graduate school of education at the University at Buffalo who, with her colleague and husband, Doug Clements, a professor in the same department, developed a program called Building Blocks to enrich early math education.

“They decide they’re no good at math — ‘I’m not a math person,’ they say — and pretty soon the school agrees, the parents agree,” Dr. Clements said.

“Everyone agrees.”

In a Building Blocks classroom, numbers are in artwork, on computer games and in lessons, sharing equal time with letters. Like “Sesame Street,” Building Blocks has children play creative counting games; but it also focuses on other number skills, including cardinality (how many objects are in a set) and one-to-one correspondence (matching groups of objects, like cups and saucers). Teachers can tailor the Building Block lesson to a student’s individual ability.

On a recent Wednesday afternoon at the Makowski center, Buffalo’s Public School 99, Pat Andzel asked her preschool class a question:

“How many did you count?”

Complete story here.

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One response

23 12 2009
DCG

Preschool, in my opinion, is just another word for “other-than-mommy-care”…many of us never went to school until kindergarten and did just fine. My two nieces, now 11 and 16, were raised by their mom and both are in the advanced programs at their schools.

Putting kids in schools way too early is just another way to brainwash them…

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