I recently shared an article on Facebook about seeing and engaging with maths in less traditional ways. The article really sparked my interest.
Hands up if you didn’t really like maths that much at school. My hand is firmly and securely in the air and I feel pretty comfortable that I am not alone.
If you did like maths, that is great. I think that this post is likely to be just as interesting to you, as to those with their hands up (you can put them down now by the way) but maybe a little less surprising.
I always thought that I wasn’t a “maths person”. I found it deeply tedious and troublesome.
Since Lily (who just turned 6) was young, I have wanted a different relationship for her with maths and science to the one I had.
Growing up as a person with limited mathematical abilities has at times been difficult and even embarrassing for me in the workplace. I have often wished that I was better at it. I now know that is where my problem started.
Nothing will come of wishing
I could wish until infinity and beyond, but that is never going to change my mathematical abilities.
Research tells us that deliberate practice, practice with structure and purpose, as opposed to repetitive memorisation activities is the key to getting good at anything, not just maths.
In the case of intellectual pursuits deliberate practice is about building on previously gained skills and doing activities that increase understanding by creating meaning and increasing neural connections.
In the case of maths, this will often mean finding relationships between activities and learning to view maths skills not as an end in themselves but as a tool kit for solving meaningful, real world problems or even for creating beauty though art or play.
If you are interested in reading more about these ideas. Have a look at the articles that I have linked to below.
Fostering deliberate practice
Deliberate practice is much more likely to happen when children are working with problems or concepts that they find interesting, not when they are engaged in rote learning.
Lily’s love of books has given me an avenue to introduce deliberate practice into our house in a way that gets her fully engaged and gives us enjoyable one on one time.
There are maths books everywhere! I’m not talking about the text books that we worked from as kids, I am talking about well written fiction that integrates maths into the story lines.
I couldn’t believe it when I started to discover these books. Some of them are incredibly well written and provide entertaining stories independent of the maths that they are conveying.
Lily and I now read at least one maths story together a night, often we read the simpler books with Ethan who is 2½ . It is usual for us to discuss what we are reading and so with these books it felt quite natural to talk about what the characters were doing and how they were using maths to solve their problems.
It is too early to say whether this is going to have a major impact on her enjoyment of and natural tendency to engage with maths in the longer term. What I can say is that I hear her talking about things that she notices in the books when she sees them as examples in her life. I figure it’s a promising start.
I have put a few of the books that have been our favourites so far below. The titles are affiliate links so if you click on them, you will go to the Book Depository and I will receive a small portion of any purchase at no cost to you.
Graeme Base is an Australian author and illustrator. His illustrations are incredible and absorbing in this book about animals from different parts of the world as they gather at a waterhole to drink.
The book is great for counting from 1 to 10 with younger children. There is also an underlying environmental message about the importance of water to life on earth that can be used as a discussion point with older children.
On each page of the book, there are an increasing number of animals who come to drink at the waterhole, but on each page the size of the waterhole shrinks.
This book has so many layers. There are animals that you can search out on each page, drawn cleverly into the background. It is possible to read this book over and over for the numbers but for a child to get something more out of every single reading.
Ages 2 – 4
I like the show Peg + Cat. A lot of my friends find Peg’s melodrama a bit much but she actually reminds me of myself now that I have kids ;-). She frequently has to count backwards from five to calm down.
The concepts in this book are basic. The story is about a group of penguins who want to compete in the Animal Winter Games but they really can’t navigate the obstacle course.
Peg realises that they don’t understand the concepts of under, over and around. She works with the penguins to help them to develop their skills. With her help, they are able to win their race.
This is a fun book for little ones and I think it would go really well if followed by with an obstacle course inside or out.
Ages 3 – 6 years
This book is put out by Mathstart. I love their books. The stories are lovely and stand on their own but each story incorporates a mathematical concept.
This book is a level one (easy concepts). It is about a boy who has five ducks to care for. Initially the story works through the numbers from one to five while talking about how the boy cares for his ducks. Then the ducks go for a walk and bring back another five ducks. The boy then goes through the process of doubling the numbers from one to five.
I read this book to Lily and Ethan at the same time. Ethan (2½) just liked to talk about the ducks and to count them while Lily (5) was happy working on the doubling in the second half of the book.
Ages 6 – 10
I really enjoyed reading this book. It is so clever. It follows the story of a knight, his wife and their son. The knight is called to a conference with King Arthur and several other knights from the kingdom. They need to discuss what appears to be an impending invasion by their neighbours. Unfortunately, the table that King Arthur has everyone seated at, is not conducive to a constructive conversation between so many people.
There are many iterations of the table being cut up and made into various shapes before, Lady Di (Sir Cumference’s wife) finds the solution.
There are all sorts of geometry lessons to be learned from this book. What I loved was that Lily picked many of them to discuss without me pointing them out.
I also liked that the story is actually interesting which isn’t the case with all maths based books.
Note: There are a few measurements written in the illustrations that are in feet rather than metres.