Maths is Fun (honest!)

My relationship with maths goes something like this:

  1. Commit material to memory
  2. Obtain good grade in exam
  3. Release material from memory.

I find maths, quite frankly, boring.  And what’s more, I’m not very good at it.  I am the person who can’t work out my change from a fiver without counting on fingers, the person who rounds to the nearest ten, and the person who does not know and has never known her times tables.  This is the reason why our reading, writing, and creative activities vastly outweigh our number games.  I find maths so intrinsically, terminally dull that I struggle to think up exciting or engaging activities.

I could of course leave it to the school, but guilt niggles away at me – what if I had a gifted mathematician amongst my children, whose potential is wilting, neglected?  But more than that, I don’t want to pass my own maths-loathing on to my children, I want them to be rounded people, I want to convince them that maths is fun (because I know there are people out there who find numbers, patterns, shapes etc fascinating).  And since maths doesn’t exist on its own in a little bubble, but is part of the world, I imagine it’s a necessary tool for accessing and appreciating all kinds of other things I’d like my children to enjoy (I’m no good at music either – that’s another story)…

So, on Sunday morning we played number games, and I felt virtuous for it, rather like I do if I clean out the bottom of the fridge or empty the nappy bin.  I think little and often is the answer, and incorporating counting into our lives when possible.

We started by writing some simple addition sums (numbers less then ten) onto card.  We also had a + and an = symbol written on cards, some blank sheets of card, and two different colours of pasta spirals.

We set out our cards like this, and our sum cards in a pile:

L (5) and N(3) took turns at choosing a sum card.  N counted out the right number of pasta shapes onto the first two cards, and L worked out the total.

N carefully counting her pasta

L, carefully calculating

A number sentence

We used two different colours so that the children could see the total comprised of the two smaller quantities together, and hopefully get the concept of addition (N), and start to think about number patterns (L).

Two orange, and four green, makes six altogether.

L could do this quite easily, and spent some time making number sentences on his own.  N enjoyed counting at first but it didn’t hold her attention for long, and so she busied herself with this:

Home made number tray, using a baking tray and number stickers

This is a really simple but effective idea, N will spend quite a long time putting the right number of pasta shapes, beads, or anything really, into the right compartments.  We started this to get her used to the idea of numbers representing an amount, which she clearly understands now, and it has also helped her to count properly and carefully rather than “onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineten” regardless of the actual quantity, which is what she did before we made the tray.

Whilst L and I moved on to Number Bonds.  This isn’t my idea.  A primary school teacher I know told me, “if you don’t teach them anything else, they need to know number bonds to ten”.  I’m told it is the basis of decimals, counting money, and probably other useful things.

We started with our cards, picking out the sums that made ten, and decided to find out how many different ways we could make ten.  L made the number sentences for these sums, and then we threaded the “answers” onto scooby strings, to make number bond necklaces we can get out and play with again and again, to remind us of the number bonds.  I’m quite pleased with the visual representation of the number bonds, the fact that it is easy to see that all of these add up to the same total, and the way we can slide the pasta beads along the string to count.

Number Bond necklaces

L and N always enjoy a threading activity, and N could join in this bit which she was pleased about.  L wasn’t bothered by the girly necklace idea but for boys who would be these could easily be number bond snakes!

My next idea is to play a version of pairs, where we look for the numbers that make ten.

I almost want to apologise for such a dull activity, but hope it is only dull to me.  The children didn’t seem to mind, and I think it was worthwhile in helping them to play with numbers and see the patterns.

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