Pattern recognition and the ability to complete patterns is a key math skill for preschool and elementary students. Come to think of it, it’s a key skill for adults too.  Much of the problem-solving we do at work and home requires us to identify patterns in the data we observe so we understand how something works, or the source of a problem, and how to predict outcomes. Back when I was paid for my services, I used pattern recognition all the time. I used it to debug programs, or to figure out why a product failed.  Oh and don’t forget about spreadsheets. I always have to look for patterns to determine why Excel doesn’t seem to do what I want it to.

There are lots of every-day examples too. How about this:  you hear a funny noise while driving. It seems random at first, but as you pay close attention you realize it only happens when you are going over 24 miles per hour and you turn left and the temperature is below 30 degrees. You identify the pattern, so you can then try to solve the problem. Another example: video games. I find it amazing how kids learn to master video games that make almost no sense to me! Much of the technique for winning the game comes down to recognizing patterns.  

Pattern recognition is not only a valuable and practical skill, it’s also fun to practice especially at the preschool/elementary level. All you need is paper and some markers or crayons:
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In this example each row of shapes will be a different pattern. I started the first one then handed the green and orange markers to my 3-year-old and asked her to finish coloring in the circles:
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Not too difficult... So we repeated the exercise with different patterns:
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She could manage a 3-color pattern pretty well, but beyond that it got tricky. Not that she minded, she just colored in the shapes with pretty colors of her choosing when she didn’t know the pattern. It’s nice to let kids make up their own designs too. Sometimes they’ll make a repeating pattern, and sometimes they’ll make random designs. It’s important to allow for creativity in all these activities!

This specific example is mainly preschool level, but you could easily adapt it for older kids by making more complex patterns. Mix up the shapes along with the colors.  Make a really long pattern that appears random at first, and see if your (older) child can crack the code. You can really have fun with this, and I guarantee your kids won’t even realize they are practicing math! π
 
Kids are fascinated by big numbers. “What comes after a trillion?” “How much is a zillion million?” “What’s the biggest number in the world?” “Is there such a thing as a kajillion?” Even kindergarteners are often familiar with “infinity”. Did you know a one followed by 100 zeroes is called a googol? 

Well, my daughter set out to write down one of the largest numbers in the world. She started right after breakfast:
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As you can see it starts with a 1. She was so determined to keep writing this huge number that she nearly missed the bus. That was not pretty. She ended up taking the paper to school so she could finish it during free time. By the time the afternoon bus dropped her off I had forgotten about the Big Number but the first thing she did when we got home was announce “I finished my number.” Here’s the rest:
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Now that’s a lot of zeroes! Looks like she was losing steam near the end, but no one can deny she achieved her goal of writing a really big number. I can only imagine what her teachers thought of this little project. In any case, I found this amusing (minus the morning fight just before the bus came), and I certainly admire her stubbornness determination to complete the task.
 
So, what is your child's concept of a "really big number"? Here's a homework assignment: ask your child(ren) to write or draw a picture of a really big number and see what they come up with! If you get an answer you'd like to share, leave a comment (don't forget to include your child's name) or send me an email: jennifer@mathmeup.com. Have fun! π
 
I bring you another car activity today. I think I need to start a new category for “Car Math” because lately this is the place we end up having some of our most productive math conversations (and plenty non-math conversations as well, we just drive around a lot…*sigh*). First, I bought these window crayons:
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Then, I put them in the car and forgot about them for a couple weeks.

Then, one drizzly day we had a 15-minute window of wait-time in between school pick-ups and I remembered about the window crayons. Brilliant!

When I showed these crayons to the girls their faces lit up like the sunshine that was missing from our skies that day. When I said yes, they are allowed to draw on the car windows, you would have thought it was Christmas morning right there in our minivan. They were so ecstatic! Not wanting to break the celebratory mood, I hesitated before asking Wanda “Do you want me to write some math problems on the window for you to solve?” To my surprise she answered “Yeah!” and at that moment I too felt as if Christmas came early this year. So, here she is working out her problems:
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Her sister joined in the fun too. We’ve been working on the number “3” so she practiced a few times:
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When the math lesson was done, I let them go crazy and draw whatever they want.  We only spent about 5 minutes doing math/number activities, but it was completely painless and the girls were happy to participate just because of the novelty of the window crayons.  Since they were so enthusiastic about doing the math, I didn’t mind letting them ‘express themselves’ with the Window Crayons for the remainder of our wait. I should admit though, when it was finally pick-up time I could barely see out the window behind me!

Yeah, the windows were a mess, but a little Windex took care of the “art” later that day. It was a good excuse to wash the car windows anyway, no doubt they needed it! π 


 
Is there some law of nature that states as soon as winter is safely behind us, our calendars must automatically be filled with countless activities, meetings, classes, conferences, sporting events, trips, and celebrations? Everyone has come out of hibernation to make up for all that winter downtime. Due to the sudden upswing in activity around here, I’m a bit backlogged on my writing – so much to blog about, so little time! As soon as I get the Kindergarten newsletter done, I’ll have more time to document the math we’ve been up to.

Despite our busy-ness, we still find time for numbers. Just for fun, here’s a glimpse into a typical morning around here – “arts & crafts” with Ramona:
Enjoy! π
 
Here’s another one of those activities perfect for a preschooler. I’m almost ashamed to admit the quantity of arts and craft supplies in this house. Our entire living room has been converted to the “kids’ office” where we have amassed more toys, books, games, and just stuff than we know what to do with! Despite the plethora of art supplies sometimes it’s hard to think of something fresh and new to do with them. Here’s a counting activity we did that makes use of the ink stamps sitting around. The setup:
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We used several ink pads and lots of different stamps – note the number stamps. On a large sheet of paper I drew a grid then inked a different number of stamp patterns in each square (kids can help with this too!). I drew a box in each corner where the answer will be stamped. The objective is to count how many stamps are in each square on the paper then use the number stamps to place the correct number in the smaller box. Maybe it’s easier to just show you another picture:
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Hmmm I didn’t realize that was so blurry, but I think you get the idea.

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You can try other variations, for example stamp (or write) a number in the small square then your child can make that many stamps in the larger square. Or give your child a blank grid and they can create their own worksheet. Don’t be afraid to try some “big” numbers too. Make it a little challenging!


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We’ve been working hard on accurate counting. Ramona can recite numbers beautifully but until recently hasn’t really grasped the concept of counting objects with a 1:1 correspondence. I’m not sure when a child is supposed to learn to count objects accurately. My unscientific Internet search yielded lots of different answers that essentially boil down to “every child is different” but it seems three years old is an appropriate age to at least introduce object-counting.

I could tell by observation that Ramona was ready to master this skill and she just needed more practice. We spend a lot of time counting crayons, fruit snacks, stuffed animals, you name it. Activities like this help reinforce the object-counting, and it’s a fun crafty sort of activity that passes the time and consumes the art supplies on a chilly spring day.    

So, this was all about counting accuracy and number recognition, but clearly there are lots of other variations you could try with stamps. A few more ideas:

Use stamps to create patterns. See if your child can see the pattern and repeat it, or fill in the missing stamps in a repeating pattern. Let your child create patterns of their own.

Using a small size stamp, draw different shapes for your child to identify.

Expand upon what we did above by stamping out simple addition or multiplication problems. If you have number stamps use those to write math sentences.

To really test the object-counting skill, make the same stamp in several different colors on one page and have your child count how many there are of each color.

So help me out here, what other ways can we use stamps to practice math skills? I’ve got a drawer full of stamps and ink, what else can I do with this stuff? π 

 
I impulse bought a tub of paper hole punchers in seven different shapes. They looked like fun and were on sale, and I knew I’d figure out something to do with them, some day. That was about a month ago, and today I finally worked them into a preschool-level counting activity.

First take some paper or cardstock and cut it (or not) into pieces. I made some rectangular strips out of scraps of leftover cardstock. Write a number on each card with a marker. Don’t make the numbers too big, and don’t make the papers too small, because your child is going to punch that many holes in each card. Here was our set-up:
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Next, ask your preschooler to pick up a card and a hole-punch, read the number out loud then make that same number of holes in the card.  Simple!

Ramona was so excited to do this. I showed her how the hole-punch works and she was eager to dive in. Hmmm, I had to squeeze that hold punch pretty darn hard to make it work, so I passed her a different one. Then about 30 seconds later she was nearly in tears trying to make a star with that dumb cheapo hole-punch that it turns out is terribly designed for adult use and virtually impossible for a 3-year-old! We tried all the shapes but they were equally challenging to use. No wonder they were on clearance! 

Luckily I work well under pressure so Plan B sprung to mind quickly. I ran to the office and located this lovely tool which really saved the day:
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This is my $14.99 punch which makes that beautiful crown-like design on paper corners. I believe it is part of the Martha Stewart collection sold at Michaels. This tool cost 2X what I paid for the bin of crappy hole-punchers, and has been worth every penny! We’ve used it for lots of projects already. Anyway, this tool is not exactly easy to use, but it allows a little person to put some weight behind their punching and the pretty design is far more satisfying than a little star or diamond. With this tool in hand, Ramona went right to town:
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She punched away, and counted away, and after about a half hour every card was punched (except for card 5 which had been destroyed by the faulty hole-puncher, and card 10 because she got tired and stopped at 8) and we admired the pretty designs:
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Ramona really enjoyed this activity, and I’ll tell you how I know. Later in the evening, I found the stack of punched cards on top of the dresser in her bedroom, which is where she puts things that she wants to save and (especially) doesn’t want anyone else to touch. There’s not too much on top of her dresser, just some very important things like the lip gloss and mirror she got for her 3rd birthday, a pretty necklace, and now her special counting punch cards. π