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Learning Math Words: Family and Caregiver Conversations

Originally published:

Numbers and geometric shapes on a table

One of the best ways to prepare young dual language learners (DLLs) for future success in school is for family members, caregivers, and teachers to engage children in conversations that involve math concepts. Family members and caregivers can encourage young children to learn math concepts by using math vocabulary words in the heritage language during daily conversations with young children. Having a strong math vocabulary in the heritage language helps young DLLs grasp these concepts when learning about them in English (often in preschool and kindergarten classrooms).

Some common math concepts that all young children need to learn are shapes, counting, and patterns. Families use math concepts every day, but adults may not specifically point those concepts out to their young children. For example, as a family member prepares a snack, they can count out loud while the child watches them place food items on a plate. “I am putting one, two, three apple slices on Papa’s plate. Now it is your turn to put apple slices on your plate. Can you put the same amount of apple slices on your plate so that it looks just like Papa’s plate?” Counting out loud in the heritage language during daily family routines allows the child to naturally hear and practice using math vocabulary words in the heritage language.

Young children also enjoy learning how to create their own or find different kinds of patterns. Identifying simple patterns provides a foundation for learning important math concepts. Patterns involving only two colors are the easiest for young children to identify. As children become comfortable with these you can expand the patterns to make them more complex. Finding simple patterns at home and in the community is a natural way to introduce this math concept to young DLLs.

A typical place to point out patterns is inside the grocery store (e.g., foods, floor tiles, or decorations hung from the ceiling may be in a particular pattern). If you visit parks or gardens with your child, point out the patterns in the plants and flowers. Encourage young DLLs to notice patterns by describing what you see. On a walk in the park a family member might say, “I can see that these flowers are planted in a pattern: white row, pink row, white row, pink row. What color do you think will come next in this pattern?” Again, it is important for young DLLs to learn these concepts in their heritage language. This will provide a strong math-related vocabulary in the child’s heritage language that can then be expanded upon during the early school years.

The above examples describe only two of the many ways that family members and caregivers can use conversations in the heritage language to teach math concepts to young DLLs. There are many resources available for parents and caregivers to use to make learning early math concepts fun and exciting for young children who are learning information in two languages.

Bernie Laumann Bernie Laumann

Dr. Bernadette M. Laumann was the coordinator of the Illinois Early Learning Project from 2013 to 2019. She has been a child care teacher, an early childhood special education teacher, director of an inclusive early childhood program, researcher, and university teacher educator. Her research interests include mentoring and induction activities for beginning teachers and the use of technology in connecting evidence-based practice.

(Biography current as of 2019)

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Child Care Center
  • Home

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers
  • Parents / Family

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2022