By the DREME Family Math team
Reading together offers many opportunities for young children to learn and practice math and literacy skills. With so many books available, how do you choose? What makes for a high-quality math picture book?
Look for children’s books that have attractive artwork, that are fun to read, and that involve intriguing characters. Most importantly, the books should spark wonder and enjoyment. Here are some more guidelines for choosing engaging books that support children’s developing math skills.
To build counting skills, look for illustrations where the objects are placed clearly on the page, so they are easy to count. It’s common to find books that explore numbers 1-10. Also aim for books that include zero and go beyond 10 into the teens and twenties. Books with opportunities to match pictures with numerals (e.g., 1, 2, 3) and number words (e.g., one, two, three) all on the same page can develop children’s understanding of number relationships.
Our world is made of shapes. Expand children’s shape knowledge by reading books that show an assortment of shapes and variations of those shapes—different colors, sizes, and orientations. An example is a triangle that has the base on top or on the side.
Books that describe the essential properties of shapes can help children learn the difference between shapes. “What makes a triangle a triangle? It has three corners and three sides. How is it different from a square?”
Beyond counting and shapes, many books also offer opportunities to explore other key early math concepts, including measurement and addition and subtraction. Start with books that depict measurement words and concepts such as big and small, but also more complex words like wide, narrow, short, tall, light, and heavy. Make comparisons between the size and order of pictures: “The first one is heavier than the second one, but the third one is heaviest of all.”
Look for picture books that involve adding one or taking one away. For example, in Ten Red Apples by Pat Hutchins, each animal from the story eats—or subtracts—one red apple from the tree until there are none left.
To inspire and support families to engage in math learning together, the nonprofit Tandem, Partners in Early Learning collaborated with DREME to produce a collection of video resources that promote family math. The videos are short, free, and feature real families. Designed for families and professionals who work closely with families, the videos are suitable for watching and sharing at home, community workshops, family playgroups, and parent-practitioner meetings.
The Tips for Choosing a ‘Good’ Math Storybook video shares suggestions for choosing and using picture books to support children’s math learning. It also includes recommendations of books that promote different early math skills. DREME offers storybook guides, including many in Spanish, to deepen exploration of math skills while reading together.
The DREME Family Math team offers free, research-based resources to prepare professionals serving families to support family math.