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The students in math professor Virginia Keen’s class had what appeared to be a simple assignment — create a book to help preschool-aged children with their counting skills.
On Tuesday, they assembled at the Bombeck Center, colorful books in tow, ready to see if their work would meet the approval of the oh-so-particular 2-5 year-old set.
“Children enjoy having books read to them,” Keen said.
That was the easy part. As the students shared the books with individual children or small groups, the children were encouraged to count out loud. Some kids pointed at colorful pictures of animals and other objects, and giggled at funny stickers and designs.
After 10-15 minutes — an eternity in childhood time — the students shared their observations to gain more insight about the most effective ways to help young children learn basic math. Most of the students plan to pursue careers in early childhood education or intervention services.
The students discovered that young children do well when they see a numeral printed on a page featuring that number of countable figures or objects, but can begin losing track of what they’ve counted when too many objects are on a page. Simple sentences are effective, and children respond positively to quality illustration. One book with puffy paint designs went over very well, as the kids enjoyed running their fingers over the raised paint.
In a short period of time, the future educators learned significant lessons about the not-so-simple science of teaching math to preschoolers, lessons they’ll take into their own classrooms someday. And lots of puffy paint.