Number Sense: How to Help Your Kids Reach their Math Potential
With the back to school season upon us, memories of my elementary school years flash before me. I don't know about you, but as a child I knew instinctively what type of student I was and what type of student I wasn't. While subjects like English, Language and History felt natural, I was never one for math. I was reminded of my gut feeling about math as I read the New York Times article, "In Future Math Whizzes, Signs of 'Number Sense'". The article confirms math abilities can be identified even before children enter school.
The New York Times reports children as young as three have a 'number sense', or intuition when it comes to mathematical concepts. In research that first appeared in the Developmental Sciences journal, Dr. Melissa Libertus, psychologist at Johns Hopkins University, found preschoolers were able to use their number sense to estimate whether there were more blue or yellow dots flashing on the screen even before they could count. The children with better number sense were also better at simple math problems.
Fast forward years later and I now have children in elementary school. As luck would have it, one of my sons has number sense. Communicating with him is like decoding a mystery novel. While I think in terms of words, my son thinks in terms of numbers. This makes doing homework an interesting exercise. I smile when thinking about how my son can turn something as non-math as a book report into a math exercise. Knowing that my son sees the world in terms of numbers is helpful to me as a parent. This year when we sit down to do homework, I know the best path to success will be to:
- ask my son about how he sees the assignment in order to uncover any underlying number sense assumptions and,
- find ways to relate the assignment to numbers.
The great thing about being able to identify preferences for math before children enter school is that, as parents and educators, we can help children who are mathematically inclined to achieve their potential, as well as, find creative ways to teach math to those who are not mathematically inclined.