Nurturing Mathematically Talented Preschoolers

June 16, 2011 Filed under: Gifted And Talented,Parenting IMACS Staff Writer @ 6:30 am

Guest blogger and former student, Natasha Chen, shares her experience on parenting a mathematically precocious child.

First, this is not a blog about how to tell if you have a mathematically talented child. There are many great resources out there by people more educated on and experienced in that topic. (I’ve found the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page, and the book “Developing Math Talent” by Assouline and Lupkowski-Shoplik very helpful.) If you think you have a mathematically gifted preschooler, then you might have discovered that it’s hard to find a program for gifted children that caters to this age group. These are just a few tips I’ve found myself sharing with other moms of three- to five-year olds that you might also find useful.

Building Sets

LEGOs, Tinker Toys, Lincoln Logs, K’nex, Magna-Tiles, tangrams, blocks of all shapes and sizes. All of these and similar toys are great for stimulating different areas of mathematical thinking at different stages of childhood. First, you can play all kinds of sorting games. Group the red pieces over here. Group the square pieces over there. Oh no, what do we do with the red squares? We can put them in the middle! All the rest go on the outside. Voila, introduction to set theory. Then there is visual-spatial reasoning. Have you ever observed a preschooler building a structure? She’s often down on her hands and knees looking at it from this way and that way, trying to figure out where to put the next piece. Seems like a pretty good way to encourage the ability to envision objects from different angles. And a message to parents of gifted and talented girls from a former girl: We love, Love, LOVE these kinds of toys!

Mathematical Logic

This can sound so daunting at first. “How do you expect me to teach mathematical logic to a four-year old?” The answer is that you probably already do it every day without realizing it. Does this sound familiar:

Dad: “Your mom and I don’t play with the crayons, so either you or your brother drew on the wall.” Child: “Not me!” Dad: “So who was it then?” Child: “He did it!” Wait, wasn’t that just [(P or Q) and (not P)] implies Q?

Or how about this one:

Mom: “If you want me to take you to the park, you need to sit down and finish your lunch.” Child is still running around. Mom: “Okay, I guess we’re not going to the park.” So now we have [(P implies Q) and (not Q)] implies (not P).

Or worse yet:

Dad: “We’re cutting out junk food in our family. We all need to eat healthier.” Child spies Dad sneaking some barbecue potato chips. Child: “Hey, you said we couldn’t eat that!” Dad: “Uh, I’m not really your dad, so I’m not in the family?” Busted!

See, logic is really the underpinnings of childhood discipline. Hmm, let’s leave that one for a different blog.


I’m sure we’ve all said something like this to our kids: “You can have half the cookie now and save half for later.” And then you wordlessly break the cookie in half in view of your child. If you cook or bake, let your kids observe and narrate as you go: “We need a quarter teaspoon of salt. Would you please pass me the quarter-teaspoon?” “Which one is it?” “The one that says one and then a slanted line and then a four.” “Why does it say that? Why did you call it a quarter? That’s a coin.” There’s nothing like parenting gifted children to keep you on your toes! If your child’s fine motor skills are pretty good, then get a plastic knife and let them cut up soft ingredients. Say, “Cut it in half, and then cut the halves in half so you get quarters.” It doesn’t matter if they cut accurately, just that they comprehend that we get fractions from dividing up a whole. Keep a set of measuring cups in the bath toy rotation, preferably ones with the amounts (e.g., 1/2) written in big numerals. If you have room, keep several sets so that you can take one cup of water and pour it into three different 1/3 cups. “Look at that! The first cup is empty now and the other three cups are all full.”

Lose The Lecture

As you have similar kinds of enriched dialogue with your little Fermats, keep in mind that at this age there is no need to make a big production out of any of these lessons. Little ones generally don’t have the patience for a mini-lecture, nor do they seem to really embrace new information delivered that way. Mathematically gifted and talented youngsters will welcome these experiences as part of rhythm of their lives. It just takes a little more conscious effort on our part as parents to disguise the learning as play.

If you have any more tips, please leave a comment. I could use all the help I can get!

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8 responses to “Nurturing Mathematically Talented Preschoolers”

  1. Jennifer says:

    I definitely agree that kids learn a lot better (and more willingly) when the learning is disguised as play. As a parent of a young son, I have seen this firsthand- he does so much better if I sit down and start playing with new toys and he sees how to use them. If I sat HIM down and put the toys in his lap and tried to make HIM play with them, he simply gets mad and runs away. Natural curiosity makes kids want to learn new things. He is SO curious and VERY smart, so it’s very simple for me to introduce new things to him, but only if they’re introduced subtly. Kids don’t need or want lectures, they want interaction and fun. Whenever possible, let THEM ask the questions. The more you smile and leave off the pressure, the better kids react to anything being presented to them.

  2. Natasha says:

    Jennifer, thank you for your feedback. My experience is much the same as yours. Children are naturally wired to seek out new learning experiences. And when the learning is fun, they just want more!

  3. Thank you for taking part in the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. To view other posts, readers may visit

  4. Natasha says:

    Mary, thank you for including my guest post as part of the Gifted Awareness Week Blog Tour. There are so many great blogs out there in support of gifted education. Kudos to you for bringing them together!

  5. ljconrad says:

    Treating the child as a whole person (not necessarily as an adult) should be the first rule of parenting. Engaging children in life is a strategy that all parents need to learn. Nurturing what nature has endowed them with will guide them along the path to a rewarding and happy life.

  6. Natasha says:

    Regarding ljconrad’s comment, I could not have said it better. Children come into this world better prepared to embrace and benefit from learning experiences than most adults give them credit for. Take-charge leadership is such an admired trait in the grown-up world that adults often find it hard to dial it back when engaging with children.

  7. Lisa says:

    Natasha, thank you for including this as part of the Blog Tour and for the excellent ideas! My favorite line is “There’s nothing like parenting gifted children to keep you on your toes!” True even now when our son is nearly 20. 🙂
    ~ Lisa

  8. Natasha says:

    Lisa, thank you and SENG! IMACS and I are very happy to be part of the NPGC Week blog tour among so many great blogs. We salute the work you do on behalf of gifted individuals.

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