My 8-month-old isn't mobile yet...or so I thought. One day while I was reading to my older daughter, we heard her tea set crash to the floor. It turned out my younger daughter, through a series of rolls and scoots, had moved herself from her play mat to the toy area. While the majority of the toys there would be safe for her to play with, there are a few that are certainly chocking hazards.
Several years ago a friend told us about a quick and easy way to determine if a toy is a choking hazard: see if it will fit through a standard paper towel tube or a toilet paper tube. These tubes have interior diameters of approximately 1.7 inches and if a toy passes through them, it's not suitable for young children. A quick google search yielded two YouTube videos from Children's Hospital Los Angeles and Children's Hospital Wisconsin that suggest using these tubes to determine if objects are choking hazards. You can find them here and here.
Because my older daughter, Isabella, loves to "help", I knew she would be excited about making the toy area safe for her younger sister, Jacqueline. While playing the does-the-toy-fit-through-the-tube game is a simple math lesson in itself, a few additional questions can help your child improve her ability to critically think.
I grabbed a paper towel tube and headed to the toy area.
"Let's make the toy area safe for your baby sister," I said to my older daughter.
"Ok!" she gleefully shouted with a huge smile on her face.
"We are going to use this paper towel tube to check the toys," I began. "If a toy fits through, it's not safe for your sister and I want you to put it in that bin over there," I explained as I pointed to a big plastic bin labeled "Too Small".
Isabella grabbed a plastic coin from a cashier set she has and dropped it into the tube.
"It falled through, mummy!" she exclaimed.
"It did fall through," I responded. "Why do you think that happened?"
"Because," she pondered, "the coin is little and the tube is BIG!"
"Exactly," I responded. "Want to learn a new word?"
"What new word?" she asked.
"Diameter," I responded. "The diameter is the length of the straight line from one side of the circle, through the center, to the other side of the circle." I demonstrated with my fingers on the coin. "So the interior diameter of the tube is greater than the diameter of the coin. That's why the coin fits through."
"Ohhhh, diameter, di-ameter," she repeated.
As we continued to check the toy area for hazards, I could hear my daughter quietly practicing the newly introduced word. "Diameter, diameter, diameter," she whispered as she scooped up toys and attempted to drop them through the paper towel tube. After a few minutes, she discovered something.
"Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy, look!" she shouted while holding up a wooden disk in one hand and the paper towel roll in the other. "It doesn't fit!"
"That's right!" I responded. "Hmmmmm, I wonder why?"
"Because, mommy, the diameter of this is bigger than the diameter of this!" she demonstrated as she held up the disk in one hand followed by the paper towel tube in the other.
"Very good," I praised. "And I like how you used the new word you learned."
For the next 30 minutes or so, she continued to play the does-the-toy-fit-through-the-tube game and happily moved toys to the "Too Small" bin when they failed her test. On the surface this may seem like typical play, and it is, but this play is also steeped in mathematical exploration. Isabella was talking about the measurable characteristics of everyday objects, just like she did the month prior when she learned about getting storrowed. With guidance, she was comparing these measurable characteristics to each other in order to explain why certain events did or did not occur. The coin fit through the tube because its diameter was less than that of the tube. The disk did not fit through the tube because its diameter was greater than that of the tube.
As parents and caregivers, we can guide our children on their journey of mathematical exploration by asking them the question that is at the heart of mathematics: "Why?"
"Why did the coin fit?"
"Why didn't the disk fit?"
Asking "why" will help children to critically think and often opens the door to new questions like,
"What if we turned the coin, would it still fit?"
"What if we turned the disk, would it fit?"
All of these questions help our preschoolers understand the world--and the mathematics--that surround them every day, laying the foundation for future success.
And yes, baby Jacqueline, you can munch on that disk because we know it's safe.
Disclaimer: Ms. Milkosky is a mathematician, not a medical professional. Please speak with your child's pediatrician about the best way to make your toy area safe for your infant.