Everyday Mathematics for a Curious Four Year Old

By David DeFrancesco


Countless hours of coursework, professional development and classroom teaching has failed to prepare me for my most difficult student…my four-year-old son! For the past two years, my wife and I have been struggling to find the most appropriate ways to introduce math without frustrating him. So, after countless hours of research, reviewing parent blogs and conversations with our friends, we have found a simple message that really resonates with him—mathematics is everywhere!

No, we didn’t paint equations and numbers on his bedroom walls. Instead, we looked at four areas in which we could show him that math is everywhere: what we expose him to, how we encourage him, how relevant we make it and how we can include math in how he plays.



On weekends, we enjoy going to our local farm to play on their silo-slides and hayrides and with their farm games and corn bins. There is tremendous exposure here! With each trip down the slide, Mom and I use the stopwatch on our phones to time each instance he goes down. We then discussed what factors influenced each ride. For instance, why was one ride faster than the other? While choosing pumpkins, which one will produce the most seeds? Which one weighs the most? Can the small pumpkins can be arranged into a pattern?

Lastly, we have a family tradition of making our own apple cider. We begin by counting how many apples are in each bucket, watching one bucket go through the press, observing the resulting volume and then drawing conclusions about how much cider five buckets of apples will produce. He estimated, “Ten inches of cider!”





It’s funny to hear him measure a liquid like apple cider in “inches.” This was a great opportunity to encourage him: he knew that he needed to use some form of units of measurement, and we praised him for that. We then took the opportunity to reinforce the proper type of units for liquid. And we all got to sip the delicious results!




The tractor dashboard is another fun place to learn about units. At the farm, Pa’s John Deere is parked in the driveway right next to the apple cider press. Immediately, our son ran to the green and yellow beast. As we helped him climb on, we asked him to estimate the tractor’s height (in kid-friendly language, of course). Looking at the speedometer, what is the fastest/slowest at which the tractor travels? What do these mileage numbers mean? What does “gal” mean on the gas tank? The point is, we used this moment to show him that a tractor is more than a tractor, and we encouraged him to think about all of different math concepts connected with the machine.



Reading is something that we take very seriously. We use books to help our children learn about making good choices and build interest in different topics. Jon Scieszka’s Math Curse is one which really got our son excited about math and allowed him to see that math was truly everywhere. In addition to that, he became interested in engineering based on books that we found at the library: Iggy Peck, the Architect and Rosie Revere, Engineer. These two books by author Andrea Beaty have helped us frame math and engineering with real-world, relevant and engaging examples.

The characters in the books put a face and a personality to the mathematics behind the scenes. Our son enjoys following the characters’ adventures much more than sitting through an ongoing line of dull questioning and drills. Sometimes we ask, “What would Iggy do?” To be an architect, you have to be able to measure how tall your building is going to be and figure out how many bricks are needed to be build a house. Whether it’s bricks or apples, estimating quantities and proportions is a critical skill, and it’s never too early to learn.



Last, we aim to include math in how our son plays. Honestly, he makes it easy because of his love for LEGOs©. Did you know that an 8-studded LEGO Duplo© block, cut in half equals two 4-studded blocks? Although simple in nature, these conversations have led to the basics of understanding fractions. In addition, LEGOs are great tools to teach about patterns—our son loves to make growing patterns and says that, “They look like stairs.” Another of his favorite activities is using LEGOs to measure how tall his sister is. What a sight! He has her stand against a wall, and then he builds a LEGO tower next to her. He concludes by counting the blocks, and then tells her that she X LEGO blocks tall. And that X gets bigger and bigger each time!




So there you have it! We certainly don’t have it all figured out yet. Each day brings new challenges—to include just enough fun with new learning so that our son is engaged but not frustrated. For now, exposure, encouragement, relevancy and play have helped us send the message to our very curious four year old that math is everywhere!


Is your child curious about math? Sylvan’s math programs are personalized to your child’s needs and learning style, and our tutors know how to build confidence while encouraging a positive attitude toward mathematics. Contact your local Sylvan for more information!