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Young children need a much broader experience of math, starting at the very youngest ages. Research shows that children do better in school when they start with strong skills in varied areas of math, including finding and making patterns, comparing amounts, and using everyday math vocabulary like up, down, next, and first. 1 Math attitudes are also a critical component of school success. Make Connections builds skills and confidence in all of these areas.
Research shows that Make Connections helps children, caregivers, and YMCA staff gain comfort, confidence, and skills with math. The figures below come from a YMCA region that implemented Make Connections in ELR with over 100 caregivers and their children one year.
Impact on children. After using Make Connections for the school year, caregivers reported that their children learned:
Impact on caregivers. Caregivers reported learning:
Caregivers also cited changes in ways they do and talk about math at home. For example, at the end of the year, 85% of caregivers included math at least weekly when doing household chores with children. At the start of the year, only 35% of caregivers did so. At the end of the year, 71% of caregivers asked children to explain or show their math thinking at least weekly, and at the start of the year, only 12% of caregivers did so.
Impact on program math capacity. Make Connections helps build capacity by boosting staff learning. A full 100% of staff implementing Make Connections reported that they greatly improved in ability to lead age-appropriate math conversations, to help children build math skills, and to show caregivers how to help children learn math at home.
“Math talk” is a way of talking with young children to help them build the thinking skills and confidence they need for school success. Math talk is at the heart of Make Connections. Math talk can be:
For example, if you ask open-ended questions, like, “How can you find the answer to 3 + 2?” or “How do you know 3 + 2 is 5?”, the child must show or explain her thinking. Whether her answer is right or wrong, you have an opportunity to observe how she counts and adds.If she is not finding the answer correctly, show her how you find the answer. She will learn how to add and how to check her work from you.
By contrast, if you ask a closed question like “How much is 3 + 2?”, the child could answer (correctly or incorrectly) without understanding how to add. She will look to you to tell her if her answer is correct, and she may not gain the confidence to figure it out for herself.
Adults have a very important role in young children’s math learning—explaining thinking, using math vocabulary, and asking open-ended questions. These approaches, along with the mathematically rich activities in Make Connections, help children learn math in a positive and deep way.
You can help children learn by asking math questions about their thinking, like in the example in the blue box, above. That way, you see how what the child really understands. The answer alone doesn’t tell you what the child knows (a correct answer could even be a lucky guess) or how the child arrives at the answer. When children explain their thinking, they often develop new ideas; sometimes if they are initially incorrect, when they start explaining their ideas they see their mistakes.
On the other hand, if you ask a question with a right answer, the child will look to you to see if she is right or wrong, and she may not as quickly gain the understanding and confidence to find out for herself.