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Why Use Children’s Literature to Teach Mathematics?

January 26, 2018

Children love stories. Parents and teachers can take advantage of this by using literature as a vehicle for teaching math and consolidating understanding. Children’s literature can highlight concepts, act as a springboard to new math learning, stimulate discussion, or provide alternate explanations of a concept. It can make mathematical concepts more accessible, as it puts math into a meaningful context, provides visual aids for the students, and encourages communication, helping to support all learners.

Clearly, there are plenty of reasons literature featuring math concepts can be a valuable teaching tool. Let’s explore some of these benefits further:

Literature Provides Meaningful Context

Without a meaningful context, learners see math as an abstract and irrelevant system. Fortunately, children’s literature can provide a rich context for understanding and exploring math concepts. Story situations often have math concepts naturally embedded in them, allowing children to see math as a common human activity. Math in the familiar context and structure of literature allows children to see math as an integral part of their daily lives. Familiar contexts can also allow children to draw on their prior knowledge to bring their own meaning to the concepts and content. When numeracy is embedded in meaningful real-world contexts, children have the opportunity to make sense of mathematics. Kids encounter math every day– from telling time, to purchasing items, to giving or asking directions– and so children’s literature can play on this and help children in thinking about the possibilities of math in the world and in their own lives.

Literature Provides a Visual Aid

Vivid pictures in books can be used as important instructional materials in learning and understanding math. Symbolic representations like numbers and symbols are better learned if they can be linked to visual images. These pictures can help them understand the math concepts better than purely verbal or numerical explanations. In fact, many children can easily understand difficult math concepts when they are presented within the context of a story and illustrated through graphs, diagrams, and other visual displays.

Literature Promotes Communication

Communication plays an important role in children’s construction of math knowledge. The use of children’s literature fights the perception that math is just a written system of symbols and not words, or that it is something to be done on paper and not through oral communication. With literature as a guide, children can learn math through the use of language. Math concepts are often tied to the language children use to express ideas, and literature can provide further opportunities for discourse, in turn promoting children’s oral language skills, their ability to communicate mathematically, and their understanding of new mathematical vocabulary. As students read, write, talk, and listen about mathematical ideas, both mathematics and language skills develop together. The bases of mathematical ideas and language are built in the primary grades so connections that can be made during this time are critical to development.

Literature Increases Motivation

Literature motivates children to learn. It is natural to love stories as they are engaging, spark the imagination, and are not seen as work. Children look forward to sitting down to hear a story, whether it is in class, or before bed. Incorporating literature can also boost the confidence of kids who love books, but not math. Coupling the two gives these kids a chance to involve something they enjoy with a subject that may make them wary. When children’s literature is used to teach math concepts, children can connect their own ideas with the abstraction and symbols of math, which also reduces math anxiety and negative attitudes toward mathematics.


There you have it, a summary of many of the reasons to try reading as a supplement and alternative to traditional math teaching.

What do you see with your children or students? Does literature make a difference in their learning and understanding of math?



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