My daughter’s first word was “book.” I am sure she babbled “MaMaMa” and “Dada” early on, but her first intelligible word was definitely “book”! Perhaps this is not surprising, given that my husband and I read to her nightly, even while she was in the womb. My parents used to marvel at our willingness to sit down, wherever we happened to be, and read to her. If she said, “Read me this book,” we did. You see, my husband and I are “word people”; we love to read, play with words, and share words with our girls. It is little wonder that we raised a daughter with lots of language sense.
While I have always wondered whether some of her love of language is innate, I believe that most of it is learned, not inherited. It cannot be a coincidence that all those years of reading—and all that money spent on books!—have produced a reading, writing, lover of words. We spent her early childhood reading to her and writing the stories she dictated, as her imagination far outstripped her ability to write. After her little sister was born and my hands were frequently too full of a baby to hold a pencil, we graduated to helping her sound out the words she was choosing and pen her stories herself. She wrote her first chapter book when she was eight years old, a thriller with a surprise twist at the end. My husband, an inveterate punster, made sure that she “got” all the plays on words he could devise; they still trade quips whenever she is home from college. She also developed a sure sense that out there, somewhere, is a word that means exactly what you are trying to say; rarely is “close enough” good enough when attempting to express precisely what you are thinking. We most likely stoked that fire when we used the “big words” to explain the world to her; my mom frequently scoffed that “she doesn’t know what you mean” when we used precise terms. Our reasoning, however, was that we might not know when she began to understand, so we would simply begin as we meant to continue. Yes, it is a pretty sure bet that we nurtured “language sense” into our sweet girl!
I think many parents, especially homeschooling parents, nurture a love of reading and books with their children. After all, we realize that “reading is fundamental and will be an important foundation for all future learning. Fewer of us, it seems, have as natural an affinity for math. As this summer’s Parent Practicum topic was unveiled, I began to consider whether “math sense” could be cultivated in the same way that “language sense” can. Maybe math people are not “born that way.” What are some ways, I wondered, that parents can nurture “math sense” in their children?
We begin to name things and describe things to our children long before they can do this for themselves. Why can we not count things, as well (e.g., stairs as we climb them, toes we nibble, toys we put away)? As I have reflected on those preschool days, I have realized we did lots to foster the “math sense.” I remember making apple crisp, with Stephanie ensconced in her high chair hearing about half cups and teaspoons. I remember making patterns of colors and shapes with the blocks we played with every morning. I remember adding up the dollars we were spending at the grocery store. We counted the stairs to the basement and the cracks in the driveway. We insisted she learn to tell time on a “real clock,” not just the digital one that let us sleep until “7-0-0.” We plastered the house with multiplication fact cards and bought toy cash registers. My husband, a former bank teller, taught both our girls how to make change—without a calculator.
We made a good beginning in the nurturing of “math sense”; however, I realize now that I did not pursue that “sense” as strongly as I did the “language sense.” I can see the results that our efforts have produced, and I know I am thinking much more intentionally about cultivating “math sense” in my younger daughter. I am looking forward to brainstorming with my community this summer about ways to develop that “math sense” as we “Return to Roots and Reason” in our Parent Practicum.