Early Childhood Education: On Total Immersion and Developing Interests

Although Gavin’s speech and reading progress has been good, I have always worried about his disinterest in math. Fearing that math may be his weak link, I have been constantly in search of math programs in the hope that he would magically discover a passion for math.

Why do I obsess about math? Well, I have always enjoyed math in school – it was one of those black and white subjects where you’re either right or you’re wrong. There were no shades of gray in math so it was never open to interpretation and I like that. I took advanced math in high school and I had a whole string of awards from school for excellence in math. Yet, despite being supposedly “good” at math, I carried a shameful secret. My mental math is abysmal. Yes, it is such a paradox that a person can be good at math but dreadful at mental math, but here I stand.

Okay so maybe this isn’t a good reason for wanting the boys to be good at math, but I’m sure being good at mental math will have its benefits at school and in real life. Nevertheless, it is a skill I want the boys to develop.

After reading the Heguru handbook about raising children by developing their strengths, I have decided to stop obsessing so much about math and concentrate on helping the boys develop their areas of interest first. Heguru’s philosophy is that if you help your children develop their strengths, they will gain the confidence to face their weaknesses.

If you want to discover and develop your child’s abilities, you need to expose your child to a variety of activities and observe which activities he fully immerses himself into. So this is what I have been working on with Gavin and I have noticed his growing interest in the human body. His favourite Dr Seuss books are “Oh the Things You Can Do That are Good for You” and “Inside Your Outside“. His favourite song from They Might Be GiantsHere Comes Science” is “The Blood Mobile”. Then there was his toy skeleton that we bought from BeyondKid. Coinciding with this interest is his current curiosity about where babies come from and how babies are made. The only other subject he has been totally immersed in is Thomas and Friends.


Maria Montessori also talked about absorbent phases in a child’s life when learning is extremely easy because the child seeks the knowledge. Well, I reckon Gavin is having an absorbent phase on the human body right about now so I went out on a limb and bought him the book “Your Amazing Body” by Richard Walker.

Although the book was supposed to be a surprise for Gavin, I knew he snuck a look at it while I was busy getting Gareth down for  nap. When I asked him if he wanted to look at the book, he wasn’t interested at all. I expected as much because he has seen so many pictorial images of the body that he didn’t really recognise the real images of the human body in this book. When I explained to him what he was looking at – “See, this is how a baby grows. When you were in Mummy’s tummy, this is what you looked like. Then you grew and grew and grew, until you you got so big, the doctor had to take you out. And this is what you looked like when you were born.”

When we talked about the blood, I made references back to the lyrics from the blood mobile: “these are the white blood cells – the soldiers fighting infectious germs”. Then he started making connections back to what he read in his Dr Seuss book. When everything started to fit into place, he got really excited about the book. Heguru also said that learning should be experiential – looks like it might be time for another visit to the National Science Center so we can look over the exhibits on the human body…

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

18 thoughts on “Early Childhood Education: On Total Immersion and Developing Interests

  1. I just came back from National Science Center 2 weeks ago. if I were to recall correctly, I don’t think they have human body section, but still, you may visit this center at least once to see for yourself. No doubt I am still dissaponting for my last visit. Or you may register with PetroScience Center KLCC, cost slightly more than RM100 for family package, that would entitle you to many free visits to Petro Science, and to many countries including Singapore, UK, US, within a year upon registration, plus this National Science Center. Please avoid holidays.


    1. Oh! They used to have a section near the front. I wonder if they removed it. I saw it the first time I took Gavin to the Science Center when he was 2 plus. That was quite a long time ago though. I know they have changed a lot since. How disappointing if they removed it.


  2. Talking about teaching math to young child, it’s every parent’s worry, if not nightmare, including me 2 years ago, so I admit I am a rather kiasu parent. I searched high and low for math program until co-incidentally I found See’s Math. Until today I am still giving thumbs up for this gentle math approach. How V picked up hers at age 3y8m until now still inspired me.

    Why soroban/anzan/abacus shouldn’t be too early for younger children for a mere simple reason of that children still haven’t seen the concept of 10, 100, 1000, 10,000, 100,000 until 1,000,000, even if s(he) sees 10, perhaps s(he) still struggling to see 100, the quantity of which and reason why s(he) must bring 10 and 100 place value forward to a higher place value, etc. but also because they still don’t know how to ask ” why” at this juncture to justify an abstract value or to know what is exactly is 1002, for instance. But in See’s method a child knows spontaneously why 90 +10 is always 100 with direct demonstration of counters. At least for my daughter whom has embarked from this method, retired from this method has also known her simple algebra, times, conversion of money, division, multiplication, plus and minus of negative, decimal, simple calculation of polygon, fraction and percentage etc.

    As such I suggest parents to re-visit See’s Math, It’s easy to buy counters, I bought mine from a shop at Ipoh, 100 multicolor sized 50 sen counters cost RM25, 100 piece smaller counter with sized 20 sen costs RM20. With these I have brought wonders to my daughter to start a new leaf. Of course I do want her to do abacus 1/2 quarter for another math approach this year since she has built a foundation with numbers and won’t be fouled by it.


    1. Gavin has gotten the concept of 100 from Heguru. They count using the big abacus. Though I agree, Soroban does not communicate that.

      My only hesitation so far with SEE’s Method is the counters. As it is, I am struggling to keep Gareth away when Gavin is doing his Fun Thinkers. Gareth just wants to take the tiles and he goes after it like a homing missile as soon as he spies it. I just cannot see myself teaching Gavin Math with SEE’s Method with Gareth is on the prowl. I would never be able to set up the tiles without Gareth disrupting.


  3. Sometimes I draw out on piece of paper, for instance 1000, 10 ‘s x 100 turns out 1000, I draw 100, together with 9 (100) numerals for the rest, it is working. Young children want to know actual quantity, they can’t accept grey, so the initial step is to be patience, and patience, once they pick up within 10, they would pick up within 100, and once they do that, they launch faster than us, trust me.


    1. Thanks for the tip! Never thought of drawing it out. I think that would work a lot better. It is so hard to teach Gavin stuff with Gareth who just wants to be where all the “fun” is. As no.2 he hates to think that he could be missing out on anything. And, of course, anything koh koh has is always more interesting. Even when I’m trying to be fair and they both have the same thing, he will always be looking at his brother’s one.


  4. Often your vivid description of Gareth amuses me, can’t hold laugh, I can visualize his two little hands half hanging in the air…….


  5. The first step is playing with counters and able to recognize the fixed pattern whenever is shown, then retires to 2nd step : the simple movement of numbers from small to big; (3) working in the head ( no counter is used) ie mental calculation. But parent still need to demonstrate if the child can’t see from his/her third eyes. In fact I have done modification to this method by putting all the numbers to be added in an easy images in fixed pattern, that is also why V ( young child) can excel to image rather big quantity, in school, they only taught up to 100 and they themselves never experience kid could use this simple counter to image 1000, 10,000. Certain experienced and responsible abacus teacher would want the child to have fullest mastery of numbers before started child to this method. Like I said, Place Value is what is emphasized here, so too in abacus/soroban. Rushing is never good to teach Maths. Drilling is even worst, but to gain knowledge with bit of direct instruction and exploration with free will then to build their own foundation from the existing foundation is still the ideal, I think. so then they know what went wrong, if any.


    1. Thanks for the advice, FZ. You’re an inspiration to us. I hope that Gavin will be as comfortable with Math as you daughter. He is slowly learning to do Math in his head but still limited to small quantities for now. Math is a subject I want him to be able to excel in because it is such an important subject that is applicable to everyday life.


  6. I have just explored a little bit on soroban and chinese abacus. I am not sure if you are aware of rules applicable to doing abacus, it is said if you can get your child to memorize naturally of would then make them easier to do abacus alter on. I listed as follows :-

    Combination +10

    Combination -10, all the way down to -1.

    Combination + 5

    Combination -5

    I am not sure if you are aware of rules set to children applying to abacus, my FIL said it’s ideal to get children familiarize with rules by heart so that it would be much easier to embark on this method ie ( half battle is won) for kids who know this rules to kids who don’t.

    After browsing, I personally think what he said is true because the objective of doing abacus is to acquire mechanical speed in calculation, not so much on mental calculation or true understanding on the underlying maths understanding.


    1. To be honest, I don’t know much about chinese Abacus. I went with Soroban because it was the one I committed to first. I am also learning Math with the Abacus so the plan is to understand how it works before I teach Gavin. He is learning basic Math right now and can add and subtract simple equations. He is still counting but can do it in his head. The intention of teaching him soroban is to help him do it more quickly so that he is comfortable with the subject and struggle less in school.


  7. :-), I just explored recently myself, and I will buy soroban to teach chinese abacus. Yes, they are differences between both methods, the most apparent is the beads, Chinese abacus has 2 hb, 5 eb, so the place value is 10, 100, 1,000, 10,000 soroban 1 hb, 4eb, so place value is 9, 90, 900, 9,000, calculation wise, of course I don’t think they diverged muxh from each other otherwise how to get correct answer for any equations.


    1. Yeah, I figure it doesn’t really matter whether you use Chinese Abacus or Japanese Abacus. Just need a system to teach the children and since we’re already committed with Soroban (have bought books and the software), I figured I might as well go with it.


  8. After re-read carefully, I think you worry too much, trust me, if you have any method with Gavin, even Gareth, no matter how slight you teach, they will definitely get through at certain point to excel, when they do 10, they do 100, it is no exception, the point here is “constant practice”, I see no reason he is not comfortable with or struggling with Maths as you have mentioned of, only we adults are struggling with, totally not the the case especially for young children, they are so much faster than us, their learning curve is a bit like learning piano, once they take off, they take off better than us. You have to trust your sons and they are excellent than us.


    1. Perhaps I obsess too much with my own perceived weaknesses in my son but this is my first time going through all this and I do want to “get it right”. I have no former experiences and sometimes I feel like I’m just bumbling along. I’m sure whatever I’ve done will be better than nothing. I have always felt that even if he cannot remember all the things he has learned as a child, when he is older, there will be some vague memory of it lingering and it may feel like de javu for him but everything will appear “easier” to learn just as we find things easier to learn on the second time through it.


  9. Hi, this is to make more clarity to See’s maths in case anyone who is still interested with this method, that is See’s Maths uses their own number pattern falsh cards, after that they don’t flash maths cards to kids but the teacher will say outloud any equations to the kid for instance : 3245 + 345, then the kid is required to do mental calculation once is told in a specific given of times.


  10. Whether America is failing at teaching math, it may be wise to consider whether the attempt to teach math is incorrect in that more math needs to be taught rather than less so that focusing upon math is a priority. Like foreign language immersion, math broken up by many other things creates a superfluous attitude toward math when it may need more attention, not less.

    If children benefit from more math exposure, it may be possible to use teaching aids to customize math for each child and do a year’s worth of math in three months, at the early grades, because math is first a learning process, and a memory process, not a problem solving process. With foundations built, greater use of that foundation can be focused on more and more complex problems. Since the tactic has never been tried, it’s possible that we underestimate children in their ability to learn math, and show a preference for language arts.


    1. Hi Pat,

      Agree. It is all in the method and the approach. It must suit the child and what works for one child may not work for another. Additionally, the lack of interest does not translate to the inability because despite my son’s apparent disinterest in Math, there are times (when called for a stronger purpose), he has demonstrated the ability to do it. In my son’s case, there has to be a self-vested interest before there is output.


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