Frequently Asked Questions

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Benefits of using Make Connections: You and Me and Math

It’s fun, it works, it was designed for and with YMCA programs, and it’s free! 

  • Make Connections mixes math into the things that children love to do—play games, do crafts, read stories, and learn about the world. It is aligned with common YMCA Early Learning Readiness themes and with the math promoted by NAEYC (see “How does Make Connections address the math standards in my state?” below).
  • Research shows that Make Connections helps children, caregivers, and YMCA staff gain math skills, confidence, and positive attitudes (see “Make Connections impact data” below).
  • Make Connections was developed especially for YMCA Early Learning Readiness programs, thanks to funding from the Heising-Simons Foundation. Early childhood math education experts at non-profit TERC created Make Connections with leadership from YMCA of Silicon Valley and in partnership with YMCA programs around the US.

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.

  1. Pruden, S., Levine, S., Huttenlocher, J. (2011). Children’s Spatial Thinking: Does talk about the spatial world matter? Developmental Science. 14 (6).; Purpura, D., Napoli, A., Wehrspann, E., and Gold, Z. (2017). Causal Connections Between Mathematical Language and Mathematical Knowledge: A Dialogic Reading Intervention. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness. 10 (1).; Rittle-Johnson, B., Fyfe, E., Hofer, K., and Farran, D. (2016) Early Math Trajectories: Low-Income Children's Mathematics Knowledge from Age 4 to 11, Child Development, 2016. 88 (5)
Baby play is full of math opportunities. For instance, as babies stack cups and explore what fits inside, they learn about sizes and shapes; as they clap with you, they become familiar with patterns; as they experiment with how many things they can hold they gain a sense of two—one for each hand. Make Connections shows how adults can highlight the math in these activities with math talk for babies, and by encouraging babies to explore sizes, shapes, amounts, and patterns in everyday life.
  • Lots of math conversations! Each Make Connections activity includes suggestions for “math talk,” or, ways to talk with children to build their math understanding.
  • Math vocabulary (such as more, less, above, round) for each activity.
  • Storytime Connections, with ideas for combining math and read-alouds.
  • A curriculum unit that combines math and the alphabet.
Art and science are woven into Make Connections through projects, activities that involve sorting and classifying (important in science and math), and construction activities, like building towers (engineering). Some of the units, such as Animals and Weather, have a science theme. Each of the monthly sets of interest center activities includes a science activity.
Yes! You can download everything on thi website. Make Connections uses inexpensive materials most programs already have, such as colored paper, markers, scissors, pompoms, and play dough. We recommend that you make copies of all the activities for families in color. Color makes math friendly and fun.
Each state has its own preschool and early childhood education standards. States cover very similar topics but refer to them in different ways. The math topic and math vocabulary on each activity sheet align with common topics in state preschool standards. You can use these to connect each activity to your state standards. The math in Make Connections aligns with NAEYC Math Position Statement and prepares children for Common Core math.

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:

  • to enjoy math (100%)
  • shapes, patterns, measurement, numbers, and counting (100%)
  • how to stick with a math activity until it is done (96%)

Impact on caregivers. Caregivers reported learning:

  • fun ways to do math with children at home (100%)
  • how to talk about math with children (98%)
  • age-appropriate ways to build skills in a wide variety of math topics (98%)

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.

Talking about math

“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:

  • A descriptive comment, full of math vocabulary (“You made a little bracelet with long, thin beads.”)
  • An open-ended math question (“How can you tell if your bracelet would be too small for me?”). Open-ended questions:
    • Ask children to explain their thinking. If children are too young to explain, ask the question anyway. Then, answer it yourself. They will learn by listening to you.
    • Cannot be answered with a single word (like yes, no, or three).
    • Do not have a right (or wrong) answer.

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.

Other questions?
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