Adding Math Talk to Read Alouds

Engaging in math talk with your child is one of the best things you can do to develop their early numeracy skills. It builds foundational mathematical skills and shows that math is all around us. To “engage in math talk,” all you have to do is ask questions that promote mathematical thinking: How many apples are there? Do we have more apples or bananas?

Adding math talk to your todo list doesn’t have to be a huge lift. Believe it or not, you can incorporate math talk into just about any everyday activity. In this post, I’m going to focus on how to incorporate math talk into your read aloud time. You can check out this earlier post for more on how to incorporate math talk into other everyday activities, such as going to the grocery store or doing laundry.

Where is the math?

Reading aloud is a great way to build early literacy skills and early numeracy skills. The plot and pictures in children’s books provide rich opportunities to ask questions that promote mathematical thinking. This is also a great way to add some pizzazz to a book after reading it for the one hundredth time!

When reading with your child, look for opportunities to talk about these foundational skills:

  • Counting and Quantity: Learning to count is essential to building the concept of what a number is. When you come to a page that has multiples of an object, count how many! Focus on counting one item per number word, and emphasize that the last number is the total amount of items.
Page from Good Night Moon
  • Sorting and finding patterns: Finding patterns in the events of books is a great way to help your child start to think mathematically. While predicting is generally thought of as a literary skill, it requires children to consider similarities within the current book plot, their real world experiences, and previous book plots. There is a lot of power in simply asking, “What do you think will happen next?
page from Chika Chika Boom Boom
  • Comparing characteristics: Identifying which object is bigger or which person is taller is the first step in building the concept of measurement. Many books will have this type of thinking built into the plot! “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” is a great example of this with the small, medium, and large chairs and beds. Use the illustrations to start a conversation with your child using comparison words, such as big, small, short, tall.
Page from Panda Bear, Panda Bear, What Do You see?
  • Spatial Awareness: Children develop spatial reasoning skills by identifying different shapes, using shape words (round, straight), and identifying the position and order of objects. Similar to comparing characteristics, many books will include words like under, over, beside, and on top in the text and illustrations. Spend a moment discussing where things are located in the illustrations.
Page from Go Dog. Go!

A Cautionary Tale

Two words of warning before you eagerly go off and incorporate math into your next read aloud:

  1. Be careful not to overdo the math talk during the read aloud. You don’t want to extend the read aloud to the point of boredom, and you don’t want to lose the plot in the math talk. Choose 1-3 moments to throw in a math-related question and spend the rest of the time enjoying the book.
  2. Don’t force the math! Some books will be more math-friendly than others. If you don’t see an opportunity to add in some math talk, don’t sweat it. Just be on the lookout during your next read aloud.

Next Steps

  • Check out my math talk guides for your favorite books! Coming Soon!
  • Read this post that discusses more about how to incorporate math talk into everyday activities.

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