Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Learning Math by Reading Math

In my "About" section, I promise that I will teach baby bookworm her "1, 2, 3's" through books, and I found the perfect (adult) book to help me accomplish this goal.  Read Any Good Math Lately? by David Whitin and Sandra Wilde is a guide to children's literature that promotes mathematical learning.  The recommendations in this book are geared toward Kindergarten to 6h grade learners, however, I figured I could find  books for baby bookworm that promote similar ideas, but on a toddler's level.

I particularly like the first chapter of this book because it focuses on recommendations for mathematics instruction from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, and although the authors are citing mathematics standards proposed by the council in 1989 - I still think the points made are very relevant today (this book has a copyright date of 1992).  The council and the authors make the very valid point that math is, of course, much more than learning your "1, 2, 3's"....it is all around us and in everything we do.  Seeing, thinking, and "living" math is just as important as being able to calculate numbers.

The younger children learn how to "live" math, maybe they will have a greater appreciation for what is often THE dreaded subject in school. Having taught a graduate level statistics course recently, I know that even adults have A LOT of anxiety surrounding math. I've personally never been one to "fear" math, thankfully, and I hope baby bookworm doesn't either.

So, while baby bookworm is learning to count 20, and eventually learning to add, subtract, multiple and divide, what I really hope is that her mathematics instruction goes the extra mile and teaches her the ability to be a problem poser and solver, to think critically, and  to use mathematical thinking like it's second nature.

As if Whitin and Wilde could see into the future to the year 2011 when they wrote their book and learned of my self-proclaimed blog wishes of teaching through books, they (ever so conveniently) outline 8 ways children's books are a "vehicle for communicating mathematical ideas." 

Yippee!  Learning math, by reading math!  Amen.  Baby bookworm is gonna love this (well, at the very least, I do).

And, so, here are their 8 ways.

Children's books:

1). provide a meaningful context for math - in other words, they show children that mathematical concepts are naturally embedded into our day-to-day lives.

2). show math as a language - that is, children learn what words like "big" and "little" or "double" or "pair" mean.

3). show that math develops out of human or everyday experience - so, a math related "problem" can arise on the basketball court, or the supermarket.

4). foster the development of number sense - that is, they explore such things as estimation and the relationships between numbers.

5). address the humanistic, affective side of math - yes, I mean the attitude (um, anxiety!) that people have about math.

6). show math as part of other curriculum areas - for example, math is in our science lessons, our art projects, and our gym classes.

7). restore an aesthetic dimension to mathematical learning - so, they show that math isn't just numbers, but shapes, symmetry, and patterns.

8). support the art of problem solving - in other words, the storylines of books often become the basis for other questions to examine. 

Now, Whitin and Wilde have some very good recommendations of children's literature that fit into each of these categories, but as I mentioned, their book is really written for the benefit of elementary school students; thus, here are some books that I think communicate mathematical thinking in a toddler-friendly way, and were pretty easy for me to get my hands on for baby bookworm.

What Is the Pattern?

We actually picked up this book at a Lakeshore Learning store for a few bucks.  If you don't have a store near you, check out their educational products online.  I literally could spend hours in the store - it is full of fun learning games, books, teacher resources and materials, and arts and crafts.  I know the last time baby bookworm and I did an extensive math lesson I had really wanted a book about patterns and couldn't find one, so when I saw this book I jumped on it.  It is part of a series of short "math" books for Kindergarten-aged students, however the simplicity of the writing makes it a good book for toddlers too.

The book shows that patterns are in our day to day lives, and in particular, this book focuses on patterns you might find at the beach.  It introduces great words like big and little too.  Baby bookworm walks around now saying "What's the pattern?" and while she may not fully grasp what a "pattern" is, she understands the patterns in the book, I think. 

This book does a very nice job at providing a meaningful context for math, showing math as a language, and showing an aesthetic dimension to math.

Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
by Eileen Christelow

This is a cute rendition of that little song you might know with the same title.  A perfect book for babies and toddlers because what toddler doesn't love monkeys?  Especially ones jumping on the bed in their pjs.  Aside from being a fun book that will likely go over as a hit with your baby bookworm too, it is a math book when you think about it.  It introduces numbers (you can count the monkeys), the concepts of subtraction and counting backwards, and it also highlights that counting can follow a specific pattern (5 - 1, 4 - 1, 3 - 1, 2 - 1, 1 - 1). 

Now, there's about a million and five different kid stories that follow this same format, so pick one that suits your bookworm best.  We also like Five Ugly Monsters and Ten in the Bed.

The Shape of Me and Other Stuff
by Dr Seuss

Although many of Dr Seuss' books tend to be lengthy, this book is just right.  It introduces the concept of, well, shapes as the name suggests.  And I'm not talking circle, square, triangle, and rectangle either, but rather talks about how everything in this world has it's very own shape....including, "the shape of you, the shape of me".  I love how this book uses silhouettes to illustrate the shape of each object.  A truly fantastic book at showing the beauty in shapes.

As an extension of reading this book, baby bookworm and I did a shape sorting project.  It started with me creating "silhouettes" of a circle, square, triangle, and rectangle out of black paper and then I pasted them on colored construction paper.  Then, baby bookworm and I flipped through an old Pottery Barn catalogue and looked for shapes of various objects that we could classify.  Once we identified objects to classify, I cut them all out and we sorted them onto the corresponding shape's silhouette.  I let baby bookworm glue each object then on the colored paper (this child loves to play with glue). 

All in all I think it was a great "geometry" and classification lesson....that began with a book.

Anno's Counting Book
by Mitsumasa Anno

There are a bunch of "Anno's" books, but this one is great because there actually is nothing to read so even the littlest bookworm might be interested in it!  The pictures are very captivating and, in fact, have a hidden math lesson in each one.  On each page is an illustration in the center with a number at the right of the picture, and the corresponding number of cubes on the left of the picture.  Within each picture are objects that also correspond with the number, so that if you are on page "6" you will see a 6 on the right, 6 cubes on the left, and that many number of objects in the picture (e.g., six buildings, six trees, six ducks, six people etc).  The book concludes with the number 12.  Why 12?  Because as you turn the pages the seasons also change, and correspond to each month in the year.  And once you hit page 11, the cubes begin to stack in a new column, showing the relationship of 1 to 10.  What a fabulous book to introduce number sense.

A Cake All For Me!
by Karen Magnuson Bell and illustrated by Paul Meisel

This is a story of a pig who wants to bake a cake all for himself, but realizes it's much more fun to share it with friends.  The storyline rhymes, is sing-songy with few words, and the characters are all animals, making this a very appropriate book for baby bookworms.  Not only does the book incorporate counting into the text, but it shows that math is a part of our day to day life and can be found in other other subject areas.  The best part about the book is that there is a recipe for chocolate chip cake with chocolate frosting on the last two pages.  Cooking, of course, opens up a whole host of mathematical lessons, and the book does a nice job at getting a parent and child cooking team started by listing a measurement guide in the back of the book. 

So while I may not have touched on all 8 ways children's books are a "vehicle for communicating mathematical ideas", I think baby bookworm had a very nice math lesson in disguise!  We will hopefully hit all 8 soon, especially at the rate we read books!


  1. Great post with lots of good information. I am always looking for another good book!

  2. Love the post! Hope you check out my math bibliography sometime if you haven't seen it yet. ;) Thanks for posting at Math Monday's Blog Hop!
    Cindy @ love2learn2day

  3. Thanks for your comments! I am so glad I found the Math Monday Blog Hop - there are a lot of great ideas. There is so much out there on literacy, it's nice to see some love for math.


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