By Hanne S. Finstad, Ph.D. and founder of Scientist Factory.
Numerous studies show that math talk in the home makes children better at math. In this article, we give you some ideas for how you might incorporate math talk into your everyday life, for example, at the grocery store. We also explain why math talk is beneficial to the developing child’s brain.
Math talk at the grocery store
What conversations do you tend to have with your child when you do the weekly shopping? Is it at all math-related? The grocery store is an excellent arena for math talk and helping your child excel at math. A group of scientists designed a study that illustrates how grocery stores can help develop a “math brain.” The participants used an app to note what they talked about while they shopped quickly. The scientists had placed signs that gave the parents ideas about how they might speak of math during their shopping trip. Math talk increased significantly with the presence of the posters.
Math talk makes children better at math
Maybe every grocery store should have such posters? There is plenty of scientific evidence suggesting that math talk is beneficial for children’s math understanding. One study filmed parents and children every few months from the children were 14 months to two and a half years. The researchers found a great variety in how many mathematical expressions and numerical words the parents used when talking to their children. One parent could use only seven math words during the seven and a half hours of filming, and another could use 257 such words. The average was 90 number words.
The scientists examined the children’s numerical understanding when they were almost four years old. The children whose parents used the most numerical words had the best numerical knowledge. Many other studies also indicated that children who hear math talk from a very young age have a better foundation for learning mathematics.
How to talk about math as a family
The potential for math talk in everyday life reaches far beyond the grocery store. Even the most mundane parts of our lives are full of mathematics. All we have to do is to become aware of it. Certain toys and games can encourage math talk. Here are some other ways to introduce it to your family:
At the grocery store
- Find things you can count together, such as how many eggs there are in a pack
- Make simple calculations. For example, say that you need 3 eggs to make pancakes and that there are 6 eggs in the pack. How many eggs are left after you make the pancakes?
- Make estimates. How many slices of bread will you get from that loaf?
- Measure volume and weight while you cook
- Count foods when it’s natural to do so
- Count everything you need to set the table
- Practice doing things in order when you follow a recipe. Talk about the order you do things in
- Measure the time something has to boil and cook
- Measure the temperature of the food you cook
- Count and measure the things you craft
- Count while you tidy up toys, clothes, dishes, and other things
- Measure an area of the home when you’re buying new furniture
- E Hanner et al, International Mind, Brain and Education, vol 13, no 2, 2019
- SC Levine et al, Developmental Psychology, vol 46, p 1309-1319, 2010