Thursday, 7 May 2015

The School Math Curriculum - How Children Learn Maths

Many parents worry that teaching math through play and the medium of Cuisenaire Rods will somehow confuse their child if the school he/she attends adopts a more formal or different approach. The fact is that it is universal math concepts that are being taught using the rods to provide children with a deeper understanding of the structure of number and our number system than would otherwise be possible. These concerns are of course irrelevant if you are homeschooling your children.

This approach teaches universal math concepts in a way that is totally child-centered. Children discover math is creative and fun. Concepts are discovered through play, games and open-ended challenges. Sometimes the hardest part for parents to accept is that 'maths is fun'. As a consequence children will always associate Math with a pleasurable, creative and constructive experience that they enjoyed.

This is often a world away from the memories of most of us.

This method is designed to complement the way children learn best and because of this children's learning is invariably accelerated compared to children exposed to more traditional and formal methods. Children are naturally kinesthetic/tactile learners and this reflects the dominant methodology which is truly multi-sensory as visual and auditory learners are also well provided for.
Math need no longer be a source of stress and conflict in the home.

Math related surveys consistently reveal that Math is probably the most hated subject on the school curriculum. One of the most iconic figures of the 20th Century - Barbie's - first words were '"Math is tough" following concerns raised in the US regarding the lack of math achievement by girls. The National Network For Child Care posed the question "What Can We Do?" in their newsletter. Back in 1982 a major report 'Mathematics Counts' was produced as result of a committee of enquiry into the teaching of Mathematics in schools in the UK under the chairmanship of Dr W H Cockroft. Some of the findings were alarming. When adults were interviewed the report observed how "... even an apparently simple and straightforward piece of mathematics could induce feelings of anxiety, helplessness, fear and even guilt..."

I question how much has changed.

A positive introduction to Math is absolutely crucial and what better way than through play? Just give the rods to a child of any age and he/she will do what they do best - play. Play is one of the most powerful motivational forces in the world. Learning should always be fun - structured, but fun. Most of our learning is non-conscious and incidental. For example children who use the rods regularly will 'know' their number bonds to 10 at a very early age without having to 'count' on their fingers.
Play is the harvesting of experience that will feed the growth of the child's understanding and further development. Play creates a positive learning environment. Directed activities can be introduced alongside Free Play to reflect children's particular interests. There are no limits to the possibilities. For example children can be asked to:
  • Create a star ship.
  • Build Cinderella's Palace
  • Produce a mosaic floor pattern etc.
It can be useful to keep a digital camera handy as children are often very reluctant to break up their creations. In fact it is a very good idea to treat their constructions as you did when they painted their first picture, as unique works of art. Photographs can also serve as a record of your child's progress. Play stimulates that most important attribute of the brain - our imagination.
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