How to Teach Your Baby Math
Spencer Doman, grandson of famous child development expert Glen Doman, will talk with @ingeniousbaby about why you should teach mathematics at an early age and provide tips on how to teach these math skills at home.
Full Interview Transcript
Kelly Krueger: Hi, Spencer. Thanks for joining me. I wanted to talk to you because when I had my first child, I ran across your grandfather, Glenn Doman, and some of his ‘how to’ books and I thought it was really fascinating.
Spencer Doman: Yes, so I grew up in a very interesting setting. My grandfather wrote a series of books, which he’s probably most famous for, all about child development, books like How to Teach Your Baby to Read, How To Teach Your Baby Math. The Doman method is a system of different programs and activities that can be done with young children to boost brain development, and just the child’s overall development. The first six years of life are the most important years in child development because during that period, our brains are developing at an incredible rate that will never be replicated again during our lifetime. The baby’s brain, and the young child’s brain are created to take in information from the environment at an incredible rate, we learn so much faster during the first years of life.
Kelly Krueger: I thought it was really interesting the way that you were teaching math. Can you talk about that a little bit, how you introduce the young child to math?
Spencer Doman: Yes, so before we teach a child about how we write numbers, if I say the number four to most people, they will imagine the way we write the number four, but the actual reality of the quantity four is this, (four fingers). So what we actually do with young children is we teach the child quantities before getting into teaching them the numerical symbols. This is very important because quantities are mathematical truth and tiny children, even when they’re babies, have the ability to see quantity and recognize them.
Duke University did some amazing research where they took six-month-olds and they essentially showed those six-month-olds quantities. What they found is if they took a six-month-old and they showed them two screens, one screen with the same quantity shown over and over and over again, but in different patterns, and then on the other screen, they showed different quantities. They found that the six-month-olds were more interested in the change in quantities, which basically meant that even at six months of age, children can see when a quantity is changing and when it’s staying the same.
This ability is called innate number sense, and Duke did some amazing follow-up research where they found that the children with the strongest innate number sense, the strongest ability to see quantity did better in test scores at three years of age and later on. So what we do is we basically strengthen disability to recognize quantity, strengthen innate number ability, and then we build on a child’s math success after that. Very often, if you look at a group of first, second and third graders, just a group of well, normal children, you’ll find that some children have strong number sense.
So if you throw down four pens on the table and you say, how many pens are there? Some will glance down and say, oh, that’s four, and some children will have to go one, two, three, four. Those children have a week innate number sense, and for those kids learning higher math will likely be much more difficult because that foundational ability in math is still weak. And so we’re basically looking at strengthening that basic math foundation.
Kelly Krueger: How do you do that exactly, just through showing them the different quantities?
Spencer Doman: That’s exactly right, by showing them different quantities and I happen to have the highest quantity that we show here which is a hundred. We would start with very low quantities, like one, two, three, four, and then we work our way into higher quantities. I know it’s completely unbelievable for adults to wrap their head that a small child has the potential of actually looking at a high quantity, like 15 or 18 or 30, and be able to recognize it, but they can, it truly is amazing.
Kelly Krueger: How do you know that they’re recognizing what the quantity is?
Spencer Doman: So what we do, because these young children are not yet able to speak, we do evaluations by giving them options. For example, if I’m teaching an 18-month-old about different breeds of dogs, and if I say to them, what’s this? The child’s speech may not be good enough to say St. Bernard, or even worse, the child might feel very pressured if they’re kind of asked to say it aloud. What we do instead is we hold up options and we’ll say, where’s the St. Bernard? And so by doing that, the children will either look at the answer that they want to select or will grab it. So if we perform this evaluation over a series of different times, we can start to get a good enough data set, to be confident that the child can do it. A skeptic might look at that and say, well a child could guess, they have two options, they could guess one. You almost have a 50% chance at guessing correctly, but you can’t guess correctly five times in a row, 10 times in a row, 15 times in a row. Mathematically, that becomes almost impossible. And so what we do with children is we’ll do these kind of very short, what we call problem-solving sessions to evaluate if they’re learning the materials,
Kelly Krueger: There was a game that both my kids love that uses a lot of dots and you add, and you look at stuff, and I noticed that they quickly can see sometimes, and then sometimes they do count. So when you are saying, you need to strengthen that, do you need to say the quantity when you show it?
Spencer Doman: Absolutely, yes, that’s right. Whenever we’re teaching anything, we’re showing it to the child and telling the child what it is. Now again, when we start with quantities, we would start with 1 through 10, but you would show a fact and say, that’s 100. Or if we’re doing our encyclopedic knowledge program, that’s the St. Bernard, so we’re combining the visual input so the child can see what it is we’re teaching them, and we’re telling it to them at the same time. This is really important because the only way that a child can learn from the world is through their sensory pathways. We have five sensory pathways, we can see, we can hear, we can feel, we can taste, we can smell, those are the only five ways any of us can learn about the world. And so basically what we’re doing with the Doman method, we’re taking arguably the two most important pathways, vision and hearing, and we’re giving the child that information simultaneously through the two pathways.
Kelly Krueger: Does this work for all children? Because I think it’s 5 or 10% of the population are kinesthetic learners, and I think the majority are obviously visual learners. So how would that work, is it still effective with someone who might be a kinesthetic learner?
Spencer Doman: Some children will learn certain things faster than others, and certain kids also have certain interests more than other kids. Some children might be interested in learning math, some might be less interested in math and more interested in encyclopedic knowledge, and that’s natural. So, parents should follow the interests of their kids and if they start to see that their child has an interest in certain topics or programs, they should follow that with their kids. But yeah, I would say that this program is wonderful for any child.
Kelly Krueger: The dots. It’s just simple as you’re showing them quantities mainly in dots, and that’s pretty much the way that you’re showing them now that they are building that foundation for math.
Spencer Doman: Yes, so that’s step one in the math program. Now there’s an entire math pathway that we follow, so basically, we teach first quantities, then we’d start to get into teaching equations to children. Because if you know what the quantity 1 looks like, and you know what the quantity 2 looks like. Then teaching them that 1 plus 2 equals 3, using those same quantity cards, that’s kind of step two in our program. Then we get into teaching them how we write numbers, so they can recognize the numerical symbols, so of course, a lot of the things in our math pathway. Also, you would find in regular math education, we just do it in a very step-by-step approach, let’s say, to keep building on the foundation that the children had. For example, in my grandfather’s book, How To Teach Your Baby Math, the whole pathway from teaching quantities all the way to teaching algebra is covered. So yeah, we were pretty meticulous about covering all the steps that we can, but teaching quantities is kind of step zero for how we did it.
Kelly Krueger: is there a common technique, you have the encyclopedic knowledge, the learn to do math, the reading, is there one specific technique? It seems like it’s all visual-based.
Spencer Doman: Yes, so first of all, our teaching sessions are very short; tiny kids learn best when they’re taught in fast sessions. This is one area where it might be difficult for a young child to be successful in a classroom where they have to sit for hours in a day but Domain method teaching is very quick. And when I say quick, I mean 10, 15 seconds in a single session, we move through the materials quickly, and then we allowed the child to take breaks and then come back. So first, quick sessions, the second thing is that we do a lot of frequency. For example, if I wanted to teach my child to read the word ‘playing’ this is like our reading program. Or with encyclopedic knowledge, if I want to teach my child that this is the St. Bernard. If I teach them that word or that image once, I can’t expect a child to learn how to read it or recognize it after one time. But if I do it with repetition, if I do it a certain number of times in a day, and over the course of a certain number of days, the children will learn how to read it or recognize it. So often we find if we do something three times in a day for five days, so that’s 15 total repetitions children are often quite good at being able to remember it after that amount. So we do short sessions, but we do them frequently throughout the day and over the course of different days. And I’d say the third thing is it’s like a major ingredient in our program is joyousness, that parent and child are having fun learning together. That’s what we’re really trying to do, we’re trying to create almost a culture within the family that learning is fun and delightful. I think unfortunately, when a lot of outsiders who don’t know much about our work, see our materials, they think, oh no, flashcards, it’s like drilling kids and it’s like miserable learning. First of all, anyone who says that, I don’t think has read any of Glenn Doman’s books because he dispels that right away in any of the books. It’s all about having fun learning and first of all, the first years of life should be fun. We don’t want to add stress to our children’s lives; that’s number one, but second of all, we actually learn best when we’re happy and enjoying ourselves, and for kids, especially if you insert stress into learning, their ability to learn actually shuts down.
Kelly Krueger: Right, and I agree, I think a lot of parents frowned upon, oh, they should be playing and they shouldn’t be learning anything, and I think I agree with you on the sense, that little kid they really want to learn. My daughter was asking me to read, at two years old, she was kind of reading herself and she wanted more help. They want to learn, but how do you make that joyous?
Spencer Doman: Well, I think that kids really take the cues from parents. So I would say to parents, if you love dogs, teach your child about dogs, if you love flowers…and I just happened to have some materials lying around, but here I have different cards of different kinds of flowers. So if that’s the kind of thing you love, you’re going to naturally bring that enthusiasm into your teaching with your kids. And your kids will say, oh wow, mom, dad are really happy, they’re enjoying this, so they’re going to naturally enjoy it as well. I would say just teach your child that learning is fun in general, kids are naturally curious, they want to learn about the world. Average two or three-year-old are asking their parents questions constantly, and so much so it sometimes drives parents crazy; they ask amazing questions. Like, why is the sky blue, or why is the grass green? These are questions that scientists ask, so they tend to think like scientists in many ways. So if you just as a parent think, I’m going to make every moment I can into a teaching moment, and we’re just going to have fun with it, that automatically will make the program relax. And I would say if you want to give your child like strict regimented learning, don’t do the Doman method because that’s not what we’re about.
Kelly Krueger: How does a parent get started? If someone wanted to instill a love of learning, and start teaching their child, what would be your top tips?
Spencer Doman: We focus on cognitive development, their intellectual development. We also teach about physical development because physical development is very important and actually tied to cognitive development. A lot of people don’t realize that a child having an opportunity every day to walk and run, for example, is very important for that child’s overall development. For example, studies have been done that show that kids who get regular physical activity as part of their school day perform better academically. Because physical activity results in certain neurological effects that allow the child to learn better, focused better and so on. So there’s cognitive development, physical development, their social development, which is just raising a mature, happy, kind child, and then fourth there’s nutrition, raising a healthy kid. So we kind of look at the child in a whole way, as in a holistic way, because we find a child to live the fullest life, needs all of these areas of their development supported.
Kelly Krueger: Well, thank you again Spencer, for taking your time and sharing all this information and I really appreciate it.
Spencer Doman: Thanks for having me Kelly, I appreciate it.
About Spencer Doman
Spencer directs Doman International's work around the world. He holds a Masters in Education from West Chester University of Pennsylvania. He teaches parents around the world about brain development so their children with special needs can reach their fullest potential in life. Spencer is Glenn Doman's grandson, and had the fortune to work with his grandfather and learn from him during the last seven years of his life. For more information, visit: domaninternational.org.