Why Teaching Children the Association between Art and Math Matters.

preschool geometry“The creative principle resides in mathematics. In a certain sense, therefore, I hold it true that pure thought can grasp reality, as the ancients dreamed.”- Albert Einstein

I will never forget the day, not long ago, when I put a pencil in my seven month old grandbaby’s hand. I cuffed my hand around hers, gliding the pencil across the page, creating streams of squiggly lines and spirals. I totally indulged in the moment, as I closely watched her facial expressions switch from one of indifference to one of concentrated wonder. Yes, even babies are moved by the power of creation.

Art lends itself to so many opportunities for quiet, meditative, self-exploration. When a child colors, draws, or paint, he is not only discovering what his body (hands and fingers) can do for him, but he also realizes there is a power lurking between his mind and body that can be harnessed at will.  This power allows feelings and ideas to be expressed in materialized form, whether in the form of a scribble, a drawing, an equation, sculpture or a skyscraper.

That is an amazing discovery, nothing short from E=mc2!  Lifelong pursuits in the arts, or mathematics, have given birth to pioneers in the forefronts of many industries. To name a few: the visual arts, music, fashion, architecture, engineering, and technology. The partnership between art and mathematics is reciprocal, and some have claimed the subjects are opposite sides of the same coin.

For instance, the golden ratio or golden mean which is said to be the division of a line so that the whole is to the greater part as that part is to the smaller part (i.e., in a ratio of 1 to 1/2 (√5 + 1), seems as much a mathematical rational as it is an artistic ideal. To elaborate, it so stands that anything following these proportions is esthetically pleasing to the eye. Thus, the golden ratio appears conspicuously in art and architecture from ancient times, down until today. We can find it in the proportions of the Mona Lisa, the Parthenon, Pyramids of Giza, and in works of modern architect Le Corbusier and Dutch painter Piet Mondrian.

In a feature column in the American Mathematical Society, Joseph Malkevitch described the interrelation between math and art. In his words:  “One mathematical connection with art is that some individuals known as artists have needed to develop or use mathematical thinking to carry out their artistic vision… “Another connection is that some mathematicians have become artists, often while pursuing their mathematics.”

However, it may not be obvious to children that art and mathematics are tied together until it is pointed out to them. Therefore, caretakers and parents must make every effort to enlighten their children’s mind since math is a thread that runs through all major professions, including those related to the sciences and arts. Therefore, training a child to see the correlation between art and math can help the  child achieve his full creative and academic potential.

Fortunately, opportunities to help make this connection abound all around us, not only in art and architecture, but even in nature. For instance, the head of a sunflower is composed of spirals that run clock and counter-clockwise, rainbows are semicircles, starfishes have five triangular legs, some animals have patterns, etc. By pointing these features out in the natural world, we are opening a primeval window that will help children develop insight.  Remember, we don’t have to be mathematicians to explain math to very young children, nor fear that a young child may not be ready for math. Even babies seem to come into the world already wired for mathematics. A professor of cognitive neuropsychology at University College London, Brian Butterworth, believes that infants have mathematical abilities.  In his article, The Mathematical Brain, he says: ” There is good evidence that almost all of us are able, from birth, to take in at a glance if there are one, two, three or four in a collection of objects.”

We can start by introducing math to children from infancy by counting to them, singing numerical songs, and visually stimulating their senses with picture/counting books in big bold colors. As children grow, make sure they have ample opportunities to explore concepts, such as quantity, cardinality, measurement, volume, patterns, and the difference between two and three-dimensional space. I find the foldable geometric shapes from the company Learning Resources to be particularly useful in helping very young children explore hands-on various concepts simultaneously. We can help children to compare and contrast quantities in everyday living by simply asking questions that encourage mathematical reasoning. Dinner time can be an excellent time for mathematical pondering: “Theresa, why do you think daddy has more food on his plate than mommy?  Questions like these will  also encourage children to use mathematical language: “Mom has less food on her plate than daddy because daddy is taller and bigger and so he eats more than mom.”

Art%20of%20einsteinWhen talking about art, we can talk about colors in term of hues and values. For instance: “I love the way Vincent Van Gogh used various kinds of yellow in this sunflower painting, this looks like lemon yellow, and it seems lighter than this yellow over here, don’t you think?” Don’t forget to talk about the position, direction and distances between objects (spatial reasoning), while exploring a work of art. Also, point out different lines used by the artist: curves, zigzags, wavy lines, etc. Let them explore with paints and brushes, encouraging them to create their Van Gogh paintings, Picassos, or Davinci’s. Our homes as architectural creations, follow different patterns, and lines across ceilings, up and down walls, and through corridors and stairs. Point these out to children along with features like windows, and doors.  Have children talk about their respective shapes and dimensions, for this will help them see how architecture embraces both art and math.

The possibilities are truly endless.  Above all, we can teach children to develop a passion for art and math by role modeling the behavior.  Be enthusiastic about the mechanics of the world around you, live in awe, and share your understanding of the world with the little people in your life. By doing so, you will foster a true love for the arts and mathematics.

Monique Rodriguez is a childcare specialist,  and author of the book,  Making Sense of Children’s Senses. available on Barnes and Nobles, amazon and book stores near you.

Disclaimer: The information on this site is for information purposes only and not intended to constitute professional advice.
Malkevitch, Joseph. “Feature Column from the AMS.” American Mathematical Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2015.
Butterworth, Brian. “The Mathematical Brain: Summary, Reviews & Commendations.” The Mathematical Brain: Summary, Reviews & Commendations. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 May 2015.
“Life’s Extremes: Math vs. Language – Association for …” Insert Name of Site in Italics. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May. 2015 <http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/lifes-extremes-math-vs-langua&gt;.
“Confidence counts | Global | The Guardian.” Insert Name of Site in Italics. N.p., n.d. Web. 22 May. 2015 <http://www.theguardian.com/culture/1999/jun/19/artsfeatures&gt;.

One thought on “Why Teaching Children the Association between Art and Math Matters.

  1. I really love this article; from the way you explain the connection between art and mathematics, to the way you provide everyday examples on how to apply it with children. I’m a first time mom and I never knew how excited one can be to the vibrant colors of a mosaic, and the different textures of everyday materials. As adults, we no longer seem fascinated by these masterpieces of life, when we should! I wish I can be as enthusiastic as my baby girl. I now want to incorporate this love for math and art, not only for her, but also for me! Now I’m going to look for new ways to count her little fingers and toes, and going to add painting and drawing in my baby’s schedule ( before I thought she was too young to understand). After reading this article I learned that it’s very beneficial to let my infant explore the wonders of art and math, even at such an early age.


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