Being pregnant is so exciting, but it can seem like a really long period of waiting! So why not use this time to prepare and get ready for your new little person. Why not spend the 9 months thinking about how you will educate your baby? By that I don’t mean which school you will send them to, but rather how will the things that you and your partner do with your baby help to prepare your little one for their life? That might sound big and scary, but you are embarking on a journey with your baby, that will last a lifetime. You are growing a person, not just a baby. In the words of that advert, ‘a baby is for life, not just for Christmas!’ The more you prepare, the better their life outcomes will be and the more you will enjoy them!
What can I do to prepare for my baby arriving?
Well, alongside all the normal preparations like getting nappies and clothes and preparing somewhere for them to sleep, why not spend some time thinking about maths and how you will introduce its concepts and thoughts and language to your baby. Why not prepare some of the songs, games and activities that you will do with your bump (yes you can play with your bump), baby and toddler?
The first thing to do is to buy yourself a lovely notebook (or if stationery is not your thing, any old notebook will do!) or make a space on your phone for this, that works just as well. This notebook is going to be where you record pieces of advice, thoughts, ideas and games that you come across. (It can make a great gift if someone wants to give you something for your new and exciting pregnancy!) (My sister gave me mine; I still have it even though my eldest is about to leave school! It had a fluffy sheep on it and came packed full of great advice!) Find a place to keep it so you will have it when you need it and can easily find it.
Try to remember 3 number songs from your childhood. For some of you, this will be easy, but for a lot of us, it is AMAZING how we forget what was once almost in our DNA! Here I am talking about things like 10 green bottles, 3 blind mice and 3 little speckled frogs. (there are an extra 3 for you to add to your list! Ask friends and family for their top 3 number songs from childhood. Use the internet to search for another 3, you should now have over 12 number songs that you can sing and play with your baby when they come. Get your partner to join in, how many can you get together? Add all these songs and games to your notebook. You might want to put them into the age that you think you will use them with, or just pop them all down in a list under number songs and games. Remember to come back to the list when your baby comes!
No matter how pregnant you are, start singing the number songs! If you are so early in your pregnancy that your baby is not ready to be able to hear the songs, it will give you lots of practice and time to find lots of new songs as well as helping to make you feel as special as you are. If you are further along with your pregnancy, your baby will be able to hear your singing. Obviously, they will not be understanding the words at this stage, but you are building up a bank of songs and your baby is beginning to recognise the sounds you make. Your baby will love your voice which in turn builds up their confidence and gives them a lovely start to life and it is also getting you into the habit of singing to your baby. Singing also releases endorphins, which are great to help you feel good. If you feel good, your baby also feels good, so, all great brain-building stuff!
How does collecting number songs help my baby love maths?
Developing an understanding of numeracy (number) is important during the early years. It lays the foundation for future mathematical understanding. This is not being able to count to 10, rather it is about understanding the concepts of the numbers and number sense. Gaps in numerical thinking and understanding start early and therefore the more that we can do as parents to encourage our children to think about number and have a basic numerical understanding, the better their outcomes will be. Number games are a good way to introduce these concepts in a fun and relaxed way. Number games help brain development, Ronald Ferguson from Harvard University, the director of Achievement Gap Initiative[i], has been researching the behaviours that affect a child's long-term progress in life. He has identified several activities for parents which will help them support the development of their child and enhance bonding between them. One of these is the importance in the early years to lay the foundations for numeracy. One way in which to do this is to play number games. These are fun and easy to play.
Games can be used to introduce concepts such as matching, sorting, ordering and comparing and will help a child to lay the foundations for a good understanding of numeracy. Those who have a strong understanding of the real basic elements of maths, will be more likely to go on to become confident in their maths tasks once they arrive at school.
“Children who struggle to understand the meaning of numbers in kindergarten have been shown to have serious math difficulties later in elementary school. These early math skills even impact college graduation.” [ii]
So, by singing those songs, you are not only entertaining your bump, baby or toddler, you are also building up their mathematical knowledge! (find out how, here)
Finally, address how you feel about maths. Listen hard to how you talk about maths, particularly numbers. Research[iii] shows that how parents feel about maths is reflected in how well their children get on in maths in later life. Think about how you would feel if your child were using the same language about maths as you do. If you find that your language is negative, try to change the narrative. Rather than I hate maths, I’m not good at it, say, I find some parts of maths a bit tricky, but I like the challenge it presents me. I love it when I work out the answers. That puts emphasis on the problem solving and puzzle element of maths with a success at the end rather than telling a negative tale. Just because we don’t find maths easy doesn’t mean we need to pass this bias on to our children.
Early maths skills are a bigger predictor of academic success than literacy skills[iv], so make sure you help your child to love maths and problem solving, and it all starts before they are even born!