The other night my concerned 5-year-old asked a question I never saw coming: “Will I have to leave my friends if our family wins and we have to move to the big white house?” Overhearing her grandparents talking about the 2020 election, my preschooler picked up some key concepts like voting and the White House, but her preschool-mind filled in the blanks on the rest. As we sat down and talked about voting, she was reassured that our family would not be moving and was curious to learn more.
Young children are naturally inquisitive about the world around them. As the National Association for the Education of Young Children points out, children learn when they actively make sense of the world around them. So how can grown-ups harness this interest in an election and use it to boost other early learning skills?
Voting is an authentic way to practice early math skills with young children. When we vote we exercise key concepts like sorting, counting, charting and comparing.
Here are seven easy ways you can help your little one build math skills by voting:
- Take a vote about family activities. When it comes to small, everyday decisions allow your family members to vote. Consider votes on what to eat for breakfast or which game to play during game night. The American Academy of Pediatrics explains that limiting available options to two or three ensures that your preschooler will not become overwhelmed with choices. Give time for them to consider their options. You might even create ballots and designate an area of the house as the voting booth with a ballot box. Count the results together and announce the winner.
- Sing math counting songs. At the heart of voting is the concept of counting. Practice counting everyday in small, easy ways. Count the number of steps you walk up, the number of chairs in your house or the number of people who walk by your window. Sing counting songs like “Ants Go Marching” while watching the live-action clip from PBS Nature Nuggets or “The Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.”
- Make everyday comparisons: more than, less than and equal to. When we vote, we look at which side has more than the other. Help your little one with this concept by making comparisons. For example, compare which cup has more water in it, which sock is smaller or which team scored more points. Fill two bowls up with different objects — for example, ball or blocks — and have your child guess which one has more. Then, count the number of objects together. Sing along with PBS KIDS’ “Peg + Cat” and practice using the terms “more than,” “less than” or “equal to” when making comparisons.
- Talk about ordinal numbers: first, second, third. Practice sequencing. For example, ask which team came in first, second or third place during a tournament. When waiting in line, point out who is first, second or third. If you take a family vote or poll, discuss which option came in first with the most votes and which came in last with the least amount of votes.
- Take a poll with family members. Consider asking a simple question like, “what is your favorite animal?” or “what is your favorite sport?” Help your little one collect the data from this poll with your immediate family members or connect with faraway family with phone or video calls. Point out similar patterns or connections in the answers provided.
- Sort the results. As votes come in, counting officials sort by candidate, political party and option. Learn about sorting with Curious George, and practice with the data collected in a family poll or vote. Use everyday opportunities to sort when doing the laundry, clearing the dishes or putting toys away.
- Create tally charts and tables to boost graphing skills. Visualize the data by graphing and charting the results. Using paper and crayons, draw vertical lines to create columns of a chart. At the bottom of each column, write or draw the different options available. Then, when a family member makes a selection add a sticker or draw a star to that column. Count the number of votes and help your child write the total number.
On a recent weekend, my family voted on which film to watch during our family movie night. Giving my children the opportunity to “stop, think and choose,” like Daniel Tiger does, gave a feeling of empowerment in our family activity. We counted, charted and compared the votes and had fun together. And while we will not be moving into the “big white house,” I am reminded that we can use the everyday experiences and objects in our home to support math skills for our children.
American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014) Bringing Out the Best In Your Children.
McLennan, Deanne Pecaski. (2014). “Making Math Meaningful for Young Children. NAEYC.
PBS KIDS for Parents (2020). Let’s Vote.
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Stephanie Murray (Ed.D. candidate) is an education consultant, professor, mom of two lively girls and owner of Creativity in Learning Partners, an education firm with a mission of creating authentic learning experiences. She previously held positions at WNET, New York Public Media where she created award-winning curriculum for PBS KIDS properties, the Newark Museum of Art and was chair of the New York City Early Learning Network. She is a certified teacher and aims to bridge the gap between home and school learning for all children.