In Home Education, Charlotte Mason’s volume that is the most important to us as moms with very young children, she does not address acquiring math skills before the age of 6. This is a little concerning to many modern parents, including my husband, who wants our children to appreciate math. Charlotte Mason believed that no specific subject should take precedence over another.
But education should be a science of proportion, and any one subject that assumes undue importance does so at the expense of other subjects which a child’s mind should deal with. Arithmetic, Mathematics, are exceedingly easy to examine upon and so long as education is regulated by examinations so long shall we have teaching, directed not to awaken a sense of awe in contemplating a self-existing science, but rather to secure exactness and ingenuity in the treatment of problems.” Towards a Philosophy of Education, page 231
Even without weighing the scales heavily in favor of math in the early years, we CAN address it during the early years.
Charlotte Mason described in detail how to teach a child early reading skills (letter names and sounds, beginning word blending, etc.) before formal lessons. She said that these methods should be child-led, and that they should seem like a game to the child. I believe that this gives us a good idea of what early years math should look like. When our children are ready, we can introduce math skill through play.
Charlotte Mason Early Years Math
Counting does not mean much without the numbers relating to objects. Young children who can count might think that they’re reciting a song or rhyme, without knowing that there is a reason numbers appear in order and that they represent different values. This doesn’t mean you should avoid counting, but it does mean that if your four year old can’t count to 50, it’s probably nothing to worry about. What’s more important than counting is number sense. Number sense is an understanding of values, where numbers fit in the grand scheme of things, and how numbers are used in the world. These are some of the playful, child-led ways that we’ve learned number sense.
This math toy was gifted to us by a thoughtful family member. There are 12 different blocks, from 1 inch to 12 inches long. Each inch is identified with marks, so that one side of the block looks like an unmarked ruler. The other side has an animal or insect on it; the largest block is a giraffe, while the smallest block is a ladybug. The ends of the blocks have either the number of dots that relates to the size of the block, or the numeral.
I’ve been asked a few times how I use these in our home. I’ve avoided answering this question because I really just try to follow my children’s lead. But, here are a few ways we’ve played with Inchimals.
- Count the dots and inches
- Put the blocks in order from least to greatest (smallest to biggest)
- Find the block that falls in between two numbers (for example, Which block comes between five and seven?)
- Demonstrate simple addition problems
- Make the animals talk to each other, which has nothing to do with math, but sure is fun!
Other number sense ideas
There are other ways that you can gently help your eager-to-learn child develop number sense.
- Count steps when you walk up them, seconds when you wait, etc.
- When you’re reading a story, count like objects on the page (example: Count all of the trees on this page.)
- Play hopscotch
- Count backwards when a timer is almost up
- Put dot stickers on a piece of paper, and cross out each sticker as you count it. This is also great for fine motor skills! (Miss H did this when she wanted to learn, and counting immediately clicked!)
Being able to actually count money is something that should occur long after a child learns to skip count by 5’s and 10’s. But, playing with pretend money is realistic play that little ones love. I focus on counting the units with little ones instead of counting the values of, say, nickles. We have this cash register and it has been lots of fun! It came with money that my children love playing with.
- Play “store” together; designate prices, and dole out pretend money
- Sort coins by size and color, and eventually name and value
- Give your child a dollar or two to spend at the store (Target dollar spot!)
- If your child shows interest, help him or her run a lemonade stand or other entrepreneurial endeavor. Miss H often sets up “art galleries” at home, prices all of her art work, and sells it to family members for a few cents each.
This IS an area that Charlotte Mason addressed in Home Education.
the first idea of distance is to be attained by what children find a delightful operation. A child walks at his usual pace; somebody measures and tells him the length of his pace, and then he measures the paces of his brothers and sisters. Then such a walk, such a distance, here and there, is solemnly paced, and a little sum follows–so many inches or feet covered by each pace equals so many yards in the whole distance. Various short distances about the child’s home should be measured in this way…” Home Education, page 73
Although younger children won’t do any sums to discover inches and feet, they can still use their bodies to count paces, hand widths, etc.
- Measure objects with hands or feet (i.e how many hands long is this chair?)
- Grab different sized items and decide which are longer or shorter. (Like we do with Inchimals!)
- Walk across your backyard or another area outdoors and see how many paces it takes to get from one end to the other
- Bake something delicious together. Help your child level out the measuring cups. (I don’t mention fractions, I just discuss how many scoops we need.)
Nature is a beautiful place to identify patterns. If you pay close attention, they can be found in many areas of creation. Just spending several hours outside each day, like Charlotte Mason recommended,
- Identify patterns in nature, fabric, and pictures
- Use nature objects to make different patterns
- When organizing books, clothes, etc., come up with a pattern to use- if this doesn’t drive you crazy!
For young children, geometry means a focus on shapes and spatial skills. Like colors, children will probably begin to identify shapes without much prompting. In the grand scheme of things, knowing the vocabulary word for different shapes
- Make shapes with Pattern Blocks
- Play with a shape sorting cube
- Discuss names of shapes you find in nature
- Collect objects from nature and trace them on a piece of paper to observe them
- Make designs with Imagination Magnets
There are many developmentally-appropriate ways to introduce logic to young children.
- Play Tic-tac-toe, Connect 4 , checkers, and other games requiring strategy
- Allow your child to participate in solving everyday problems instead of stepping in and solving them
- Play the “What’s Missing?” game. At a restaurant or the dinner table, remove one item while your child isn’t looking, and ask them to figure out what’s missing.
There’s no need to worry that delaying formal lessons will mean a future delay in math. There are plenty of natural, playful ways for your child to experience early years math without any pressure or workbooks.