"Look, mummy, I made you a picture," my preschooler shouted as she ran from the kitchen, a piece of white scribbled paper flapping in her hand. "'X' ten equals one!"
She placed the paper down in front of me as I stared in disbelief.
My daughter had just written her first equation.
How could this be? We had never spent any time discussing equations. We do frequently write down numbers, like when Isa realized forty-four "matched" and wanted me to write it down so she could practice writing it.
Then, I remembered. I moonlight as a mathematics tutor for middle and high school students and last week was my "busy season". In preparation for the tens of students who would descend on my house for help studying for their midyear math exam, I did over 1,000 math problems--and many involved equations. Isabella loves to "do what mummy is doing" and I recalled she frequently sat next to me while I worked through my students' review packets. Of course she would have asked what I was writing and of course I would have explained it to her.
"What are you writing, mummy?"
"This is an equation. Five x equals fifteen."
"What's that number, mummy?"
"That is an equals sign."
"And that's a five and that's a fifteen...and that's an x!" she would have said, pointing at each number and variable.
It all made sense. We had talked about equations, in passing, and in her quest to "do what mummy is doing" she had written her first one.
My intent with explaining equations to her was not to have her start writing her own, but rather to help her understand what "mummy does for work". I also wanted her to realize math isn't scary, it's something people do every day. The more young children can see math being used in everyday situations, the more comfortable they will become with it and, *theoretically*, the less math anxiety they will have as teenagers.
I know what you might be thinking, I'm not a mathematician, so my child won't be exposed to someone writing equations all the time. That's ok. They don't have to be. You probably do plenty of math every day...and you can bring your child in on the fun!
Here are some examples:
If you've ever dined at a restaurant, then you've had to calculate a tip. The next time you do this, say to your preschooler, "now that the meal is done, I'm going to calculate the tip. Would you like to help?" Most likely they will say yes as many preschoolers love to do what adults are doing. You don't have to get them to fully understand what you are doing; simply talking about it (and having them type the numbers into the calculator) is enough to pique their interest.
Calculating unit cost of a product at the store is something you are probably already doing. For example, if a 6-pack of paper towels cost $6 and a single roll of the same brand (sold individually) costs $1.50, what should you buy? One 6-pack? Or 6 single rolls? Most likely you calculated the unit cost of the paper towel for the 6-pack and found it was $1 per roll. Since that is less than the $1.50 per roll of the individually priced rolls, you would buy the 6-pack. While the concept of unit cost is definitely too advanced for your preschooler, the idea of talking about numbers and using math to help you decide what to purchase, is not. Talk to your preschooler about why you are choosing to purchase what you are purchasing using comparative language such as "more than" or "less than".
If gardening is your thing, there is plenty of math involved, including some that is age-appropriate for preschoolers. Let's say you are planting some plants near your home. Plant A will grow to 4 feet, Plant B will grow to 3 feet, and Plant C will grow to 2 feet. You want to place the tallest plant against the house, the next tallest in front of that, and the shortest furthest from the house. Ask your preschooler if they can help you order the plants from tallest to shortest. Help them use comparative language such as "4 is greater than 3" or "2 is less than 3".
Have additional examples of how you use math in your daily life? Comment below!