Maths Made Simples

I would argue that most teachers approach simple problems the same way as a cat does when playing with a ball of string. We start off quite playfully, toying with ideas of how we could approach solving our problem but then somewhere along this journey we get a little over excited and start to play with the ideas too much, until we are left feeling exhausted with nothing to show for our efforts except a tangled mess. This was the same for me when I had decided to adapt my approach of developing mathematical language in the outside area. 

My first jerk reaction was to immediately turn to twinkl and print as many different number and shape posters, laminate them and stick them outside in their designated areas JOB DONE. For a while they made the outside area look more ‘organised’ and ‘pretty’ but then as it does in the United Kingdom the weather turned very quickly and my beautifully laminated twinkl posters became a colour mixing experiment and an eye sore to say the least (waste of time and waste of resources). 

So, reviewing my approach and grieving the fact that twinkl doesn’t always have the answers I decided to purchase a book called Messy Maths by Juliet Robertson. This book was an eye opener and what I loved about it was that it provided me with a huge variety of simple, cost effective solutions that involved minimal preparation. One thing the author suggests is to keep a variety of tools on your person at all times – for example a measuring tape, a small sand-timer, a miniature number line, a notebook and pencil, prompt cards and a finger puppet. These resources took no time to prep and I could find most of them lying around the classroom. 

Armed with my new knowledge and tools I eagerly took my children outside and as suggested took a step back and just observed how the children were interacting with the environment. As I made my observations I noticed that a small group of children were making potions in the water area. As I approached them the children asked me how to make a magic potion, instead of reeling off a list of ingredients I decided to approach my potion order with a twist. Using a finger puppet as suggested above I used a frog to tell the children what he wanted – for example 2 cups of blue water and 3 cups of orange water after the children had completed fulfilling his order he would ask them how many cups of water they used altogether. The children were completely engrossed in the challenge and made potion after potion for Mr frog, not only were the children combining two sets and using their fingers to count they were more importantly enjoying a mathematical process all because of a simple finger puppet. 

Another simple approach that the book suggested was to take a step back and not engage in the children’s play until you were invited. One day I was sitting outside observing the children in the construction area and I spotted one child building a stair case by building different sized towers using different coloured bricks. The child then asked me what colour she should use next, we then looked at her pattern and she said to me ‘I need 5 bricks and they should be green’. The reasoning behind her decision was that the towers she had built previously were built of 1, 2, 3, and then 4 bricks and she had used alternating colours of red and green. She carried on with this process until she had made towers up to 10. By just stepping back I was able to observe mathematical processes such as pattern work, counting 1:1, one more and one less without having to initiate them.

This experience has taught me that we don’t have to make more resources, spend more money or make extra work for ourselves to provide our children with good quality experiences that inspire investigation and creation, we can do this by just making simple adjustments or by using simple objects. 

If you enjoyed Ann-Marie's story of her experience in Early Years, then see why Maria, Science Teacher, plans to teach for the rest of her life.

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