At some point we all have experienced difficulty with Maths. It is surprising how many adults will say that they did not do well in Maths at school, yet they can place a bet (odds and probability), play snooker (estimation of angles and speed), and play darts (subtraction and multiplication) all of which involve high functioning mathematical skills. The difference is that all the skills have been learned through practical (tactile) experience and by trial & error.
Children learn best through practical experience using all of their senses and this is the key to developing solid pre-maths skills that will enable them to cope better with understanding more complex concepts as they progress. The act of using blocks to build a tower both uses and helps develop skills in spatial awareness, estimation and problem solving. Sometimes they also need a little direction which means that the task also supports language development and social skills.
Now comes the educational history lesson. During the end of the 1970’s and beginning of the 1980’s, the vogue in education was to let a child explore materials and concepts at their ownpace (very laid back), learning ‘occurred’ instead of being ‘directed’, which left gaps in understanding. Towards the middle of the 1980’s along came the National Curriculum which in contrast was very prescriptive and left little time for individual exploration of concepts (time to ask ‘What if?’ …I added more bricks to the tower).
Practical experience using a multisensory approach in informal activities, will encourage abstract (as opposed to concrete) thought. Parents do a great job of making the most of learning opportunities that arise during the course of the day. When shopping they encourage the child to give the money to the cashier and wait for the change; when cooking or baking they encourage the child to help with weighing or counting out ingredients etc. All of these activities are supported within the pre-school curriculum, but they can be built on to include language and social skills (working together).
Most of the activities described below can be used for younger children or children who are experiencing difficulties with mathematical concepts. All of the activities can be used as an opportunity for problem solving.
Counting – activities start very early using counting rhymes (counting fingers) and songs.
- Use numbers 1-5 to begin with, then progress to numbers 1-10.
- Always take the opportunity to ‘count’. Count and Match the number of little cakes to share with friends.
- Reinforce counting with ‘number cards’, alongside a practical activity such as ‘I have three apples (show 3) and I eat one (take one away). Count the number left and encourage child to find the ‘2’ card. (Number recognition & subtraction).
Tallying – this is pre-chart and graph work.
- Make two types of sandwiches for a party. To find out which type people prefer use a sheet of paper divided into two columns (ham, cheese). Encourage the child to make a mark (representation) for each preference. This also promotes social skills.
- If there are several people at the ‘party’, then you can help the child ‘estimate’ before tallying which type of sandwich was the most popular.
- If the child helps make the sandwiches (depending on their ability), encourage 1 to 1 matching of slices of bread to make the sandwich, (introduce fractions by cutting the sandwiches into halves or quarters).
Time – can be a difficult concept to understand (measuring time) .
- Focus of days of the week and routines. Using a calendar encourage the child to help you add important dates such as birthdays and family celebrations. Talk about the seasons and identify them by the clothes we wear.
- When looking forward to a special activity, count the number of sleeps until it happens.
- Use an egg timer or stop watch to find out what you can do in 1 min, 5 min. etc. Encourage estimating how long a task will take. Some tasks take longer than others
Spatial awareness – sound basis for geometry.
- Shape, size, space, position, direction and movement are all involved with this.
- Understand how much space they take up. Find articles of clothing that are too big and too small for the child as them what they think they can fit into.
- Nesting dolls or boxes – look at how they fit.
Sorting and matching – usually an innate skill.
- Sort a collection of cars or buttons. Can they find more than one way to sort them?
- Find photographs of yourself at different ages – help the child order them from youngest to oldest. Find toys that can be ordered from tallest to shortest; heaviest to lightest; biggest to smallest.(also helps with estimation skills) keep the size to the group to be sorted between 3/5 objects.
- Match objects – help with sort clean socks into pairs.
Shapes and Patterns – Patterns in numbers, shapes, images (that repeat in a logical way).
- Identifying patterns can help children learn to make predictions, in logical sequences by using reasoning skills.to
- Encourage activities like cutting out large shapes of different coloured paper and ask the child to find the red shape or find the square shape etc.
- Build with blocks – encourage them to see the way different shapes fit together. Understand how changing shape (clay) does not change the mass.
Use activities like going for a walk as an opportunity to pick out the math that surrounds us (stones, trees, etc.), make comparisons, look for shapes, and colour.