Blogger Kary Henry

Preschool Outreach Programs, Part 3!

If anyone were to go back in time and tell my high school algebra teacher that I was running math programs for preschoolers, I think he would have laughed in your face! I was SO not a math kid. Fast forward quite a few years. As an elementary school teacher, I had the opportunity to earn a post-Master’s certificate as a Math Specialist. This program taught me to look at math differently. And different turned out to be very, very good. I’m still not a math whiz, but I love highlighting math content in my storytimes and preschool outreach programs.

In this post on my Preschool Outreach Programs, I’m going to highlight a pre-algebra program I offered to preschoolers. Algebra, to some extent, is about balancing two sides of an equation.

2x + 7 = 35

Think of an equation like a scale or a balance. What does x have to be to make 2x + 7 equal/balance with 35? If I think x is 100, then the left side of the equation is “too heavy.” If x is 2, then the left side is too light. But if I think x is 14, then my scale rests balanced comfortably. While preschoolers aren’t necessarily going to grasp those complex specifics, they can explore the idea of equivalence using their bodies, a book, and a balance.

Program Plan

Bodies: We began by interacting with the concept of balance in a physical sense. First, we stood as we were able and balanced on two feet spread apart and then on one foot. We discussed which was easier and why. Words like “stronger” and “wobbly” were used to describe the two experiences.

Book: Next, we read Balance the Birds by Susie Ghahremani. We followed the reading with a discussion:

  • Why were the birds able to balance?
  • What happened when the owl appeared in the story?
  • The tree needs to have its two sides carry the same weight.
  • Sometimes the same weight can be represented by different numbers of things (2 birds = 2 birds, but 1 owl = 6 birds)

Balance: Then, we experimented with a balance from Kodo Kids. I distributed weighted teddy bears that were of three different sizes and three different weights.

image shows a balance with two cups hanging from it and a variety of plastic weighted teddy bears in front of it
Image of Kodo Kids balance, with weighted teddy bears in front; photo courtesy of author.

The students had to figure out how to make the two sides equal. Each group of students had an 11×17″ piece of paper with an image of a balance. They placed their teddy bears onto the two sides of the paper and then tested their hypothesis with a turn at the actual balance. As more tests happened, more information was gathered, and eventually most groups were able to create a balanced “equation.”

Lastly, we got more abstract! I shared with them that when we say or write 4 + 1 = 5, that the equal sign is like the middle of the balance. We used hash marks to explore equivalence as well. I drew the following on a whiteboard and asked them to help me “balance” the equation.

| | | + ? = | | | |

The preschoolers loved doing this work, especially when I told them that they were doing Big Kid Math!

Next Steps

On the handout that went home after any of my outreach storytimes or programs, I shared ideas to help adults continue the learning at home. From exploring physical interactions with balance (can you balance a pencil on your fingertip?) to playing with mathematical equations, the ideas hopefully inspired more math explorations at home.

How do you incorporate math into your storytimes? Do you have any favorite math picture books? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

This post addresses the following ALSC Core Competencies: I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and V. Outreach and Advocacy.

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