Children’s Literature & Resources that Support Math
Children’s Literature Can Make Math Fun!
It seems as if the connections between children’s literature and topics within many academic disciplines are endless. Captivating stories introduce fascinating historical eras, animal tales for young readers share basic concepts of biology, and stories of community teach children about interacting with new people and building relationships. However, somewhat elusive within children’s literature are math concepts. Perhaps the most challenging academic subject to integrate smoothly into your family’s everyday life, math has often been taught through memorization and drilling rather than through curiosity-driven exploration. However, despite it’s elusiveness, math is very much present within children’s literature, and there are numerous resources to support families in exploring math together… and making it fun!
We asked Beryl Hoffman, assistant professor of Computer and Information Technology at Elms College in Chicopee, and a homeschooling mom living in Florence, what children’s literature she would recommend for families wanting to supplement learning (and a love) of math at home. She had several great picture books to recommend for children that playfully explore math concepts within a story…
For very young children, math begins with the development of object-number correspondence and grows into skills for counting and basic addition and subtraction. Books that pair well with young students’ developmental stage and growing understanding of numbers are ones that encourage them to recognize patterns, count and track small groups of things, and problem-solve to find a solution to a character’s number-related troubles. Author Stuart J. Murphy’s Math Start series is a great place to begin with young children (Tally O’Malley from the series was a favorite at Beryl’s house for a couple of years!). Divided into leveled groups (ages 3+, 6+, and 7+), the books integrate a wide range of non-mathematical topics (everything from sports to bugs, dinner table etiquette to caring for pets) into a math-based storyline, weaving topics together in a way that is neither forced nor artificial. While the series is leveled by age, children’s development does not always correspond to age – young children may be ready to peruse books leveled above their age.
Other resources to support young mathematicians include Greg Tang’s stories (author The Grapes Of Math), and Scholastic’s Hello Reader! Math series , a leveled series that combines early literacy skills and language acquisition with plots centered around everyday math challenges. Some of the books in the Hello Reader! Math series are by Marilyn Burns who also wrote the classic geometry picture book, The Greedy Triangle, and there are interactive versions of Greg Tang’s stories available at his website: gregtangmath.com (click on hint).
Older elementary aged students who have already mastered basic addition and subtraction can utilize children’s literature to explore deeper topics in math, like representation of data, the numbers between numbers, and the everyday uses of these concepts. Ann Whitehead Nagda’s books focus on the intersection of animals and math, teaching children about baby tigers and graphing numbers, polar bears and fractions, cheetahs and division, etc., illustrated with pictures and graphs. Students with a sense of humor will enjoy Cindy Neuschwander’s Sir Cumference series, which combines great math puns with explorations into mapping, geometry, measurement, and other math topics that deal with spatial relationships.
Additionally, readers of all ages can enjoy the simplistic yet beautiful classics written (and often illustrated) by Mitsumasa Anno. Anno’s math books – often consisting of detailed illustrations and sparse text – combine number sense and operations with a unique way of seeing and depicting the world.
For further ways to combine math learning with reading skills, the book Math Through Children’s Literature lists books that can be used to teach math alongside plot summaries, suggested ages to use them with, and possible lessons and activities that can stem from each book, and many picture book suggestions can be found at www.livingmath.net. Also, parents can always turn to Jean Kerr’s Family Math, a guide filled with math games and activities that can be easily adapted for students of any age, or groups of learners at different levels.
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