WDAY.com |

North Dakota's #1 news website 10,650,498 page views — March 2014

Published January 21, 2013, 11:40 PM

Little scientists: New community ed classes teach early math and science concepts through play

MOORHEAD - Mari and Dennis Wanzek of rural Moorhead want their children to be comfortable with math and science, so this winter and spring 5-year-old Simon and 4-year-old Mabel will be taking new classes offered for preschoolers through Moorhead Community Education.

By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM

If you go

What: Moorhead Community Education’s Early Childhood Family Education Marvelous Math class

Dates: 12: 30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays Jan. 22 - Feb. 26.

What: Moorhead Community Education’s Early Childhood Family Education Wonders of Science class

Dates: 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays April 23 through May 21

Where: Probstfield Early Learning Center, 2410 14th Street South, Moorhead

Cost: $40

Registration: Register online at https://communityed.moorhead.k12.mn.us, by calling (218) 284-3400, or mailing or walking in a registration form and payment to Community Education, 2410 14th St. S. Moorhead, MN 56560. As long as the class isn’t full, parents can register even after the class has started.


MOORHEAD - Mari and Dennis Wanzek of rural Moorhead want their children to be comfortable with math and science, so this winter and spring 5-year-old Simon and 4-year-old Mabel will be taking new classes offered for preschoolers through Moorhead Community Education.

“It is important to teach kids that they can be successful in math and science early so they are comfortable with those topics given the level of technology required in today’s society,” Mari Wanzek said.

Simon has an affinity for science, but at age 5, has already said math is hard, she said.

“The two fields are intimately connected, and we do not want him to have any preconceptions that may hold him back,” Dennis Wanzek said.

The Wanzeks also say it’s imperative girls are empowered in the math and science fields. Mabel likes math and feels she is good at it. Her parents in return want to encourage that positive perception of herself, they said. They want her to know she can do it, and they think a positive experience in these classes will help with that, they said.

Children as young as 2 years old can start taking new Marvelous Math and Wonders of Science classes offered through Moorhead Community Education’s Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) program. Both classes are for 2-year-olds through children entering kindergarten.

In Marvelous Math, children will work on counting, sorting and simple math games they will make in school and can bring home. In Wonders of Science, children will create goop, glurch and other scientific concoctions in the classroom, and parents will learn how to continue the experiments at home.

Lauri Winterfeldt, Moorhead Community Education director, said parents are becoming more interested in how they can provide learning experiences for their children prior to kindergarten enrollment.

“Math and science particularly lend themselves to those activities because they are so hands-on and concrete,” she said.

Products abound promising to teach babies and toddlers skills like reading, writing, math and science.

But studies show pushing academics too early, especially in the form of flashcards, DVDs and computer games, can be bad for kids.

A 2011 study by researchers at MIT’s Early Childhood Cognition Lab showed that while adult instruction promotes efficient learning, it can also limit a child’s spontaneous exploration and discovery.

Pat Wolfe, an author and educational consultant from California who conducts workshops on applying brain research to educational practice, says there is no proof that extra stimulation, beyond parents’ natural interaction with their children, is necessary for cognitive or social growth. She also says too much activity can result in overstimulation and can be damaging to a young child.

Scientists discovered the brain develops synapses between cells in the first three to four years of a child’s life at a rate that will never be duplicated again. Some have misinterpreted the information to mean babies and young children need extra stimulation during this time, Wolfe said in her paper, “It’s All Academic: A Few Thoughts on Brain Development in the Early Years,” on her website, patwolfe.com.

Wolfe also asserts that children don’t like to learn through passive input. Activities like flash cards, workbooks, language videos and computer games deprive children of the natural interaction with their world that’s so important to development, she said.

The classes offered through Moorhead Community Ed’s ECFE program are designed to be fun and encourage learning through play, said Ruth Supler, an ECFE instructor who has been with the program for 25 years.

“That’s how children learn,” she said. “Preschoolers learn by doing things, hands-on experiences. It’s got to be fun in order to keep their interest.”

Rachel Stahlberger, an ECFE instructor, said introducing basic concepts to preschoolers gives them the groundwork for when they enter school.

“It helps them process things a little bit faster and things come a little bit easier if they have those very simple first skills already established,” she said.

First the kids and parents work on some fun math- or science-based activities together and then they split up and Stahlberger works with the children while Supler meets with the parents and talks about things parents can do to encourage their kids’ interests in math and science.

They want to show parents that math is more than adding and subtracting and boosting skills can start at home, Stahlberger said.

“If you do it through play, kids don’t realize their learning,” she said.

Parents can find everything they need to teach their preschooler in their home, Supler said, adding that something like sorting can be done with buttons in cupcake pans.

“You don’t have to go out and spend mega bucks,” she said. “You don’t have to buy a lot of materials to teach, it’s just that you need to devote some time.”