By Annie Sung, Teacher
How can teachers promote young children’s understanding of mathematics through playing games? This is just one of the many things I learned from the 2004 annual NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) conference in Anaheim, California last November.
Each year an estimated 20,000 educators from around the nation attend the conference to learn, interact and exchange ideas. There were hundreds of sessions to choose from, with a variety of topics to suit the needs and interests of everyone. Twenty-two Bing teachers and administrators attended the conference, including five who made presentations.
This year I was particularly interested in three areas: how children relate to music kinesthetically, how children learn mathematics and how children combine literacy and expression. Veteran musician Ella Jenkins put on a performance that got the crowd bouncing in their seats. Hundreds of devotees filled the ballroom to chant, clap, move and sing along with Jenkins, who has been making music for children for over 50 years. Other sessions taught attendees new songs that could be used to learn coordination and balance.
Constance Kamii and a panel of researchers from Japan presented a two-hour session on mathematics and games. Kamii is an expert in general mathematics and Piaget’s theory of constructivism. I was fascinated by Kamii’s talk on how children learn numbers and mathematics through games that teachers can develop and implement into the preschool and elementary curriculum. Having studied under the renown psychologist Jean Piaget, who was known for identifying four stages in cognitive development, Kamii followed Piaget’s teachings closely. She led a discussion about how common games can require some understanding of mathematical principles and how peer interaction should be encouraged in solving problems.
Another interesting presentation was a session with Rosemary Wells, the author and illustrator of the popular children’s book Bunny Cakes. Wells introduced her latest book, My Kindergarten, which follows a kindergarten class through an entire year. She stressed the importance of providing children with books every day to help them to grow and develop intelligently. She also spoke of the struggle to finance education, to which every child should have a right.
Besides attending workshops and sessions, I got a chance to wander around the expo, where the floor was covered with booths showcasing everything from story felts and books to children’s play equipment. I found some animal felts to use for music time and collected an assortment of information pamphlets.
Going to the NAEYC conference and expo in Anaheim allowed me to hear many unique and diverse voices and share in experiences that inspired me. It gave me a renewed respect for all professionals who work with young children. I was eager to share the newly acquired ideas and songs with the children at Bing.