Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Ice Cube tray for snacktime learning

Once infants are finger-feeding themselves cheerios, granola, small bits of bread, etc., try introducing them to an ice cube tray. Put one piece of snack in each compartment. Initially they may just dump it over and throw it on the floor. That's okay--this is their exploration of cause and effect and gravity! Show them how to use their pincer grasp (thumb and first finger) to grab out each piece. They initially start with using their whole fist to grab, and this activity encourages the pincer grasp. If your baby gets frustrated because they can't get the snack out, help them by manipulating their fingers OR you get it out and hand it to them. They also learn by watching you model the task! Besides fine motor skills, this is teaching one-to-one correspondance, which your baby will someday need as she learns to count!

For your toddler, encourage her to put one snack in each compartment on her own! Q enjoys this task and of course likes taking them out when she's filled all the compartments. This continues to hone fine motor skills, teaches one-to-one correspondance and also begins to introduce the concept of odd/even. Of course your child will not be thinking about odd/even one bit right now, but their brain is learning what it looks like when to adjoining compartments are both full (even) and what it looks like when one compartment is left empty (odd).

Be sure your child always fills the compartments from left to right and fills the partner container if you are going to work on odd/even. Of course you have to judge your child's mood and the task they want to do before insisting on filling the tray a certain way. Some days I can totally tell Q just wants to plunk raisins in compartments. And she wants some to have 3 and some to have none. I let her do her own thing and "chase her own rabbits," to quote from Alice in Wonderland. Other days I can tell she is up for a little suggestive modeling from me, and that's when I take advantage of the teachable moment to show her something new. It's all about knowing your child and following their lead, yet also looking for opportunities to expand their thinking (this is called scaffolding!).

You can expand this with preschoolers by asking "does each snack have a partner/match/friend (whatever language your preschooler understands)?" Once your child has answered, count the snacks together, going from left to right and counting each snack and it's partner before moving on to the next row. (see below) After you have counted, simply state, "Everyone had a partner, so 10 is an even number!" OR--"not all the raisins had a partner, so 7 is an odd number." And leave it at that! You are planting early math skills in your child's brain and helping them to see concretely what this looks like so as they develop mentally they can move to a more abstract understanding of odd and even.

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