Math for Babies? What You Need to Know (page 2)

Math for Babies? What You Need to Know

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Updated on Jul 6, 2010

As newborns age, their appreciation of numbers extends to arithmetic, too. In an adaption of the doll study, Kolleen McCrink, Ph.D., and Karen Wynn, Ph.D., presented nine-month-old babies with short films which depicted scenes in which five rectangle "characters" were hidden from view, and then five more followed. When the object hiding the rectangles moved off the screen, either five or ten rectangles were revealed. Babies looked longer at the incorrect outcome of five rectangles, than the expected outcome of ten rectangles. They found the same results when similar "subtraction movies" were shown.

So, what does this mean for parents? Can you raise a genius by teaching your baby advanced math concepts from day one? The bad news is that scientists can't agree on exactly what can be done to influence the mathematical capacities of very young infants. However, they do have some ideas about activities that help point babies and toddlers in the right direction:

  • Provide colorful stimuli, such as large blocks and tiles. Play with your baby and observe what he does. Babies and toddlers tend to naturally start classifying things, based on size, shape, or color—and this builds a foundation for lifelong mathematical learning.
  • Give your baby plenty of sound-makers: shakers, drums, wrist bells, etc. Interacting and playing with musical instruments will build a sense of rhythm. Plus, as he plays, he'll gradually learn that one shake or pat produces one sound, and two makes two noises, etc.
  • Set up toys that encourage your baby to explore his motor skills. Stacking rings, soft books, and other bright, textured toys do wonders to stimulate babies' senses. As he gets a little older, you may notice him start to put things in order, as well as in groups—activities that lead to more advanced numerical concepts.

It's important not to stress too much about teaching math to your newborn. It's not necessary to push babies to start counting right away, or to overwhelm them with lessons or flashcards. The good news, and perhaps the most important take-home of these studies, is that this rudimentary sense of numbers is both inherent and universal in infants.

"Babies are amazing learners, and they do this all without our help!" says Feigenson. "The best thing parents can do is be engaged with their children in everyday activities. Talk to them—about numbers, about the toys in the playroom—about anything at all. For a baby, every experience is an opportunity for learning... and engaged infants become engaged children."

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