Sometimes we don’t realise it but maths is a language in itself. New mums are always keen to expand their baby’s vocabulary; to teach them lots of words and to help them learn to speak and understand English. Stacey Keyser, an experienced speech pathologist says, “Language development begins from birth and needs to be modeled everyday by parents and caregivers.”

Teaching your baby the words and language associated with mathematics is the easiest way to incorporate maths into your baby’s life from an early age. Here are my top 5 essential ways to “speak maths” with your children.

Keyser suggests that the 5 elements discussed in this article, “relate to semantic development. This is specifically about the organisation of our vocabulary. We organise our vocabulary mostly by features, such as size, colour, shape, function, locations, category, beginning sounds, etc. For this reason it is critical to start using these features early in a child’s language development and modelling these in our own language everyday.”

1.     Counting

Be confident and comfortable to use numbers naturally as part of your everyday routine and play.

  • Count everything. Count their snacks as you put them out in front of them, count as they jump or as you lift your baby in a jump, count claps, count kisses. When your baby is learning to roll, count as you roll them.
  • Get complex in your counting with your older children. How many pairs of socks are there in the clean washing, so how many individual socks must we have?

2.     Shapes

We all use shape as a way of identifying and organising what we see. Very early on, your child begins to make a connection between familiar objects and their shapes.

  • Talk about the shapes you see around you, name every shape. “Jonny, would you like to play with this triangle?”
  • Explore toys with curved edges and toys with flat edges. Discuss the differing properties. “Jonny, feel the ball, it has curved edges, can you roll it?”

3.       Colours

Colours are also used for identifying and organising what we see. Connections between familiar objects and their colours are made early on.

  • Talk about the colours you see around you, name every colour. “Jonny, look at the green trees.”
  • Identify different objects of the same colour. “Here is a red ball. Here is a red shoe. Here is a red block.”

When you look outside, while you probably don’t verbalise everything you see, you brain is processing, defining and sorting. It sees the brown, rectangular building, the yellow, triangular children crossing sign and the green, orange and red circles on the traffic lights. We all use colours and shapes as a way of identifying and organising what we see. Very early on, your child begins to make a connection between familiar objects and their shapes. It is important that they are introduced to this vocabulary early on.

 With an understanding of shapes and colours children can begin comparing, organising and sorting.

4.     Comparisons

Making comparisons is a skill used in everyday life from baby right through to adulthood. It is an important basic skill to have and the language used when making comparisons can be taught by you to your baby while comparing objects.

  • Which is bigger or taller?
  • Which is heavier or lighter?
  • Which is longer?
  • Which is thinner?

5.     Sorting

Sorting goes hand in hand with comparison and is a vital life skill. There are many different ways which items can be sorted and many different criteria can be used for sorting. Often we will compare and contrast before we are able to sort.

  • How can we sort this into groups?
  • What categories can we use?
  • What are the things we can use to separate these into groups?

Keyser states that “Mathematics is a fundamentally language based task, and therefore it is essential that basic language skills have been developed sufficiently for us to engage in mathematical problems.” She goes on to emphasise the importance of modelling all forms of words including verbs, adjectives and prepositions, not only nouns. “This then exposes children to much of the language required for mathematical tasks,” says Keyser.

The following is some expert advice offered by Keyser, “Everyday routines are the best way to model all forms of language and vocabulary to our children. We can find examples when we’re sorting the washing into categories, sorting the shopping into fresh food and pantry food, going on a treasure hunt around the house searching for different shapes as well as having a bath and talking about the bath being empty and full and the water being hot and cold.”

 What ways have you “spoken maths” with your child today?

Photo credit: greekadman / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA