Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

24 Cheshvan 5764 - November 19, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network











Home and Family

by A. Ross, M.Ed.

By the time a child goes to school, he should be familiar with quite a few number concepts. Incredibly, many of the children whose parents take them for assessment because they are unable to read, have not even begun to grasp basic number concepts. This is not because the child is in any way retarded. If he cannot read, that is a problem of its own, which has been discussed repeatedly in this paper and in others, and he may need specialist help. However, unless a child is really a `special' child, he should be numerate by the age of five.

Almost as soon as mothers begin to talk to their children, which is usually from birth, they ought to (and most do) begin pointing out various parts of the body. "Let's wash your face, and your eyes, now your ears..." Soon baby will perform when you ask him where his nose, eyes, hands are. Not long after that, he will be introduced to the number songs which most mothers and grandmothers know from their own infancy. These songs abound in every language, e.g. "Ten little fingers, ten little toes, two little eyes and one little nose etc." is an English one.

One Purim, a rather inebriated Rebbe from an Israeli cheder came to visit. He suddenly stood up and burst into song, acting out the Yiddish equivalent of "Ten Little Boys." In this song the counting was backwards from ten.

Parents should take every opportunity they have during the day to count. Going up stairs, taking steps, begin just by counting up to five. If there are thirty steps, you will repeat yourselves six times. When the child does this spontaneously and correctly on his own, saying one number for each step, continue up to ten. There is no need for more at the pre-school state. The child can count the fingers of one hand. He can count the fingers of your hand, too. The variations are endless. Count how many spoons when setting the table, how many lamp-posts on the way to the park. How many toys he picks up at night. In fact, a good idea when trying to induce tired reluctant children to pick up all the toys before going to bed is to say, "Everybody pick up three things. Now everybody pick up two things. Now four..." There will be no grumblers.

A child should be able to recognize the written number by the time he is four. There are no hard and fast rules; some pick them up spontaneously by the age of three. An old telephone is usually a better toy than a toy telephone after the age of two. When teaching the numbers, do not forget zero (or naught, depending on where you live). You will be doing the child a great service if you teach him that zero means `nothing.' When teaching the written number, you can take one number, for example, 7. Draw dots on a paper numerous times and let the child join them to form the number 7. You can ask the child to put out seven bricks, seven cars. Let him suggest something to put out.

For those children who seem to love numbers, it is worth going ahead a little. "I need five spoons but only brought in two. How many more are you going to fetch?" "I have three green clothespins and two yellow ones. Can you guess how many I have altogether?"

Some children will count them but many will enjoy working it out. Let them read number plates on stationary cars. Let them dial numbers on the broken phone (and have a conversation with them if you have the time and patience). Ask how many legs a dog has, how many wheels on a car, how many on a bike or tricycle. How many shoes do two children need? Most mothers are extraordinarily inventive.

Children who have been introduced to the world of numbers at an early age have both linguistic and cognitive advantages. Even toddlers understand the terms `more' and `a lot.' Size does not mean very much yet to a small child, yet as soon as he becomes a little wiser, he knows the difference between a half and whole. At first, children may call it a broken biscuit, but you can show them how two halves make one whole one.

Teach them the concepts of long and short, big and little, tiny, huge and enormous. Children love the sound of long words. There are many wonderful colorful books on the market which children can `read' and explore. Whichever way you do it, make sure your child is familiar with numbers before he starts school.


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