Today’s standard is: Computes numbers with fluency and makes reasonable estimates. This kindergarten standard is taken from Fairfax County Public Schools. Fairfax County is located just outside Washington, DC in northern VA. This standard only has 2 benchmarks associated with it, and for today I will discuss the one that states that the child should be able to “solve one-step story problems using up to 10 concrete objects.”

This benchmark piggy-backs nicely on the benchmark from yesterday regarding expressing ideas and needs in complete sentences. If a child is able to express complete sentences, he is already able to understand complete sentences, since understanding always precedes expression when it comes to language. That is, a child cannot express what he does not understand. To be successful at solving one-step math story problems, a child must understand the sentence structure and grammar of the story problem as well as the vocabulary within it.

Let’s look at some examples of one-step math story problems:

1) There are 5 books on the shelf. There are 3 books on the windowsill. How many books are there in all?

2) 4 girls and 6 boys took part in the art competition. How many students took place in the competition altogether?

3) After giving 2 yo-yos to his friend, Jack had 1 yo-yo. How many yo-yos had he had at first?

4) There are 2 zebras at the zoo eating grass. 2 more zebras come over to eat grass. Now how many zebras are there?

Within these story problems are vocabulary words (e.g., windowsill, competition, altogether, first, etc.), sentence structures (e.g., How many had he had at first?) and grammatical elements (e.g., the irregular past tense expression of the verb “take” (took), the plural “-s” on books, etc.), that all kindergarteners should know. However, if a child did not receive the right language stimulation and exposure prior to arriving to school, learning to add and solve the story problems will be much more difficult than if he had. This child, arriving with such a language deficit for learning, will struggle during lessons and, possibly, present with behavior problems or low self-esteem because he is having trouble learning when others in his class are not. Despite a caring, patient, qualified teacher with an appropriate lesson plan and curriculum to follow, this child will struggle because of lack of language skills that should have been acquired prior to the age of 36 months and solidified in his pre-school years from 3-5 years old.

Here are some activities to do with 0-36 month old children to help build the language of math story problems:

- Count out 5 objects (e.g., cars, dolls, spoons, cereal pieces, etc.) daily.
- Show one object. Add in a second object. Announce “Now I have 2 _______” (name the object)
- Count out the number of stairs as you go up and down them.
- Count out the number of steps you take to go from one room to another.
- Use crucial math vocabulary daily: all, none, one, more, less, altogether, take away, add to, fewer, equals
- Ask questions daily: How many…?, How much…?, If…., then how many…?, Now what do we have…?
- Show your fingers to the child as you count out 1-5 items.
- Use past tense verbs that are common in math story problems: gave, took, put, were, was, is/are left, added, joined