For more play ideas and toys for children with special needs, go
to ableplay.org. This website
was created by the National Lekotek Center to encourage children to
experience the benefits of play.
Parents probably have heard about the importance of developing
early reading literacy skills in young children. What parents may
not know is that math
literacy also needs to be developed early, and toys and play are a
great way to do it.
Sprinkle lessons in magnitude, numbers, distance, shapes,
weights, volume, patterns and relationships into a day of fun.
Children of all abilities need to learn these concepts in order to
develop life skills. So if you're wondering what to do when it is
rainy and gray, fill the day with math play.
Little learners can have lessons in geometric shapes first thing
in the morning with squares of toast or circles of pancakes.
Talking about shapes teaches matching, recognition and language.
When a pancake is cut across it becomes a half; cut again and it
becomes a quarter and fractions come alive with each bite-size
portion. Kids can get creative and cut their toast in triangles or
Susan Levine, a leading authority on mathematic development in
young children, believes puzzles help advance math skills using
spatial skills, rotating and translating shapes and recognizing
patterns. One source for puzzles that are appropriate for young
children is Melissa & Doug, with products like the Hand
Counting Peg Puzzle and Jumbo Chunky Numbers Puzzle. Many of the
puzzle pieces also have easy-to-grasp knobs, making it simple for
children with limited fine motor skills to be successful.
Kids often are fascinated with scales, and HABA provides
just the tool with its Balance Scale. Have children weigh their
sandwiches before and after taking a bite or guess if six grapes
are heavier than three orange wedges. Kids also can drink their
milk or juice from a measuring cup and then gauge how much one gulp
lowers the volume. They even can use measuring spoons as utensils
to serve the lesson.
Afternoon is a good time to switch to 3D. For inspiring young
builders, Ravensburger adds a dimension with its 3D
puzzles ranging from subjects like the Eiffel Tower to the Pyramids
- allowing kids to take a tour of spatial relationships. For a fun
3D brain teaser game, try Tridio Twist by Fat Brain Toy Company.
Visual learners will love Educational Insights' Numbers Balance Scale,
which makes numbers colorful and fun and teaches how they relate
and work together. KeeKee the Rocking Monkey by BlueOrange
Games is another game where children run their own experiments
with weight and balancing using a steady hand and producing lots of
laughs. Penguins on Ice by Educational Insights also helps reinforce math,
patterning and sums.
Researchers have shown that counting real things is more
memorable to children than just reciting number sequences and
dinner is a clever place to start. Count the carrots on the plate,
then the pieces you cut the chicken into. How many times do you
chew it, how many bites out of a piece of bread? Add them up and do
You can count on cuddles with the plush characters from NumbersAlive!, developed by a mathematician
with a mission. The goal is for children to make friends with
numbers, build a relationship and begin to understand their numeric
personalities. Many kids learn to fear math, especially girls, and
these characters are a way to make friends early. Children are then
encouraged to point out their favorite numbers throughout their day
and share stories about them as they begin to realize that numbers
really count in their life.
Ellen Metrick is a member of Special Parent's advisory board and director of Industry Relations & Partnerships at the National Lekotek Center in Chicago.
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