Young learners invited to harvest math at Wheeler FarmOct 01, 2022 08:02PM ● By Shaun Delliskave
A MILO sign encourages a toddler to count the fruit trees. (Photo courtesy of the Utah STEM Action Center)
By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]
While toddlers love petting the horses and sheep at Wheeler Farm, they can also practice their math skills with creative activities designed to make it fun. The Utah STEM Action Center and Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation launched the “MILO & Friends” campaign Sept. 10 at Wheeler Farm, using the bucolic setting to encourage youngsters to not only pet the cows but count them too.
Families who visit Wheeler Farm will see signs encouraging them to do simple math activities with their 2- to 4-year-olds, such as comparing the sizes of chickens and turkeys and identifying triangles and circles in nearby objects. The goal is to help parents become more aware of teaching early math skills to their young children.
Utah STEM Action Center Communications Manager Shelby Averett said, “The MILO & Friends signs have fun characters on them that kids will be drawn to. They are designed for parents to read the signs and do a simple math activity with their children. For example, the sign by the horses has a drawing of a horse with dark brown and light brown spots on it and says, ‘Can you find a horse like this one?’ This is a matching skill. Another sign asks, ‘How many fruit trees do you see?’ Other signs ask if children can find nearby circles, triangles or rectangle shapes. Kids might not know it, but they learn simple math lessons while exploring the farm.”
According to several studies, most parents lack knowledge of the specific skills their children need to know before kindergarten. MILO stands for Math Introduction and Learning Opportunities.
“If we can help parents become more aware of important early math concepts, such as shapes, patterns, matching, and other skills beyond counting, their children will be set up for success when they head to kindergarten,” Utah STEM Action Center Research and Implementation Manager Clarence Ames said. “We hope the signs at Wheeler Farm will show parents and caregivers that math is everywhere, and math is fun.”
As part of the Utah Department of Cultural & Community Engagement, the Utah STEM Action Center is tasked with advancing STEM education best practices in Utah.
“When we first came up with the idea of MILO & Friends, we wanted to reach parents with young children, and we thought parks would be the perfect place to integrate play and learning early math skills. We approached Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation and explained our idea. We had Wheeler Farm in mind as a potential starting location, and they agreed this would be a good place to begin the MILO & Friends campaign,” Averett said.
Research shows that math scores for kindergarten children are the strongest predictor of later academic and career achievement. In addition, these math scores were stronger predictors than any other variable, including early reading scores, attention skills, socioemotional behaviors (including rates of problem behaviors, social skills, etc.), socioeconomic status, and gender.
“As we surveyed community members and dug into the research to identify gaps and potential solutions, we learned that the very best time to start intentionally doing math with kids is long before they get to preschool or kindergarten and that caregivers in Utah communities lack the knowledge and resources they need to effectively engage in early math play with kids,” Averett said.
Since 2013, the Utah STEM Action Center has been working to provide high-quality math learning tools to schools throughout Utah. During that time, math scores in Utah have slowly and steadily increased. Utah is in the top 10 in the nation for math performance; however, only 36% of eighth-grade students reach grade-level math proficiency.
Parents and visitors to the farm are invited to take a survey about their experience with the MILO & Friends signs. Those wanting to learn more about how to improve their toddler’s math skills can visit the Utah STEM Action Center online at stem.utah.gov/milo.