Andrew Brodie is a popular and trusted name amongst teachers and parents. He has been producing best-selling educational books since 1992, is still very much involved in education and has a wealth of experience as a head teacher and in coaching children to pass the national tests.
Question: How can we develop an understanding, or even a love, for mathematics that can last a lifetime?
Answer: Start early!
From within a few minutes of birth our natural response to a new baby is to start talking to him. Nobody can seriously suggest that we begin communicating mathematically at this early stage. And yet, it is not too long before we can begin the process of counting while we’re dressing him, changing his nappy or feeding him.
Never underestimate the importance of ‘the twoness of two’! Your baby’s first understanding of any mathematical concept may well arise through understanding ‘two’: she has two hands, two legs, two feet and she wears two gloves, two socks and two shoes. Count the legs as they go into tights or trousers: One leg in, two legs in!
As the first months fly by you will find opportunities to count will crop up naturally. Take every opportunity you possibly can. Count the poppers on the vest as you do them up or undo them. Count teddies in the cot. Count spoonfuls of food. Your child will soon be aware of the sounds of the numbers and the rhythm of the counting.
Old-fashioned nursery rhymes are still loved by most children, again for the rhythm as well as the rhyme, and many of them can be maths related. One, two, three, four, five, once I caught a fish alive and Hot Cross Buns both feature numbers, while Monday’s Child introduces the days of the week in order.
Between the ages of one and two you will be widening mathematical vocabulary without even realizing you’re doing so. This teddy’s bigger than that one. This cup’s smaller than that this one. Let’s make a tower with these cubes. Which stacking beaker fits inside this one?
Role-play can be an excellent way to introduce ‘one to one correspondence’ – in other words matching items together. Can she find matching pairs in a small set of picture cards? Does your child have a tea set? Can he put out the correct number of plates, cups and saucers for his invited teddy guests?
Don’t forget to keep up with the counting! How many toy cars fit on the car transporter? How many blue cars are there? How many red cars are there? And at this stage, you can begin the concept of addition and totals: there are three blue cars and two red cars so how many cars are there altogether?
Bath-time is another great time for maths! Let’s fill the bucket with water. Which pot is half full? This pan is empty, let’s fill it up. Sand play provides similar opportunities. Does your child have a shape sorter? Can she identify squares, circles, triangles and even rectangles?
And of course, after bath-time it’s nearly time for bed and the perfect time to relax with a story. The whole process of sharing a picture book not only gives early experience of reading and comprehension, but can also help with number. How many people are going on a bear hunt? How deep is the river? How many toys are Pip and Posy playing with?
Beyond the age of three, written numbers will gain greater and greater significance in your child’s life. Point them out wherever you see them: on the bottom of stacking beakers, in books such as Ten in the bed by David Ellwand, on the front of a bus and of course on your own front door. You could well be surprised by how quickly your child begins to recognize certain numbers.
If possible, let your child experience all aspects of shopping. How many bottles of milk shall we get? How many yoghurts are in this pack? Does your child notice that you use a card to pay for your shopping. As well as the supermarket, try to widen the experience to other shops and even to the vending machines at the sports centre or the swimming pool. How do you select an item from the machine? How do you pay? Introduce the idea of receiving change.
Talk about times of day, morning, afternoon, evening, daytime, night-time, and begin to talk about clock times. A big colourful clock with clear numerals can help with number recognition as well as the early stages of telling the time.
By the time your child is ready to start school, he should be able to recognize certain numerals, count several objects, use language such as ‘more’ and ‘fewer’, find the total number of items in two groups by counting them all, say the number that is one more than a given number, begin to use the proper names for shapes, describe positions such as ‘behind’, ‘in front of’, ‘next to’, put two or three things in order of size, use everyday language about time and talk about money. Such a lot to learn but so many opportunities to do so.
So, how can we help our children to avoid the fear of mathematics that many of us gained during our school days and, in some cases, have never lost? The very word ‘mathematics’ can create either excitement or terror in the hearts and minds of many adults and this response is often transferred to their children. No problem if it’s the excitement of maths but potentially a huge problem if it’s the fear. And yet, if we allow maths to have a natural place in our children’s everyday lives from as early as possible we may be able to overcome any negative thoughts and build only the positive, maybe for us as well as them.
Remember, different children learn at different rates. Try hard not to push your child but let progress take place naturally. As with so many aspects of early childhood, your child will suddenly surprise you with new steps forward in their learning.
The fantastic new Andrew Brodie Basics series are designed to help both parents and teachers with the demands of the new curriculum. Let’s do Mental Maths is the first set and includes hundreds of practice questions and tips to boost children’s confidence.
His range of teacher’s resource books provide activities that can be used straight away by busy teachers and include Mental Maths Tests, Brilliant Ideas for Times Tables and Improving Problem Solving Skills.
Andrew Brodie was a primary headteacher for twelve years. He began writing his best-selling educational books in 1992 and his rapidly expanding range of books has grown from strength to strength. He continues to teach on a regular basis. He currently lives in Taunton. Andrew prides himself on making maths accessible for all children.