Sunday, 10 February 2013

Fun with Maths

It's fairly easy to have enjoy reading: even without all the word jigsaws, make-a-word games and so forth available, the very act of reading is in itself fun*.
 In addition there's plenty of material out there to teach reading: even basic workbooks tend to provide twice as much reading support as mathematical, because they treat reading and writing as two different subjects, despite the fact that they support one another.
Science and even maths workbooks still support reading because, well, they're books, you have to read them to use them.
 So home-education-wise reading is not a problem.

Maths, on the other hand, is.
There are workbooks out there, of course, and we can always write out our own problems as well.
We can set sums using handfuls of raisins** or small toys, we can demonstrate on an abacus or on our fingers, we can sing Ten, Twenty or Two Hundred Green Bottles***, there are a lot of things we can do but, in the end it all feels a bit, well, mathematical.
It lacks the enticing air that a good book, or a game of Flag Man**** has without even trying.

 We recently bought a copy of Games for Mathematics, by Peggy Kaye, having found her Games for Reading very enjoyable, but even here the games tended to be of the solve-all-the-sums-to-climb-the-ladder variety, which does little to inspire a reluctant mathematician.

We've found a few things that do work though, so I thought I'd share a few here.


I've said this before, I know, but playing games is wonderful for developing basic maths.
They don't need to be Games for Mathematics, although Orchard Games make some lovely ones, just playing games, counting spaces and spots on dice, developing simple strategies, and following the rules of the game can help to strengthen essential skills.
 Change the number of dice and require players to add them together, or subtract one from the other***** to throw in a few sums without making it too obvious.
 A beetle drive****** is always a good way to practice simple maths, and can be re-themed to suit any project or obsession as needed: house drives, car drives*******, viking longship drives and so on all work very nicely.

Trains and Automobiles

You can play counting and addition games with any small toys, but it can easily turn into just an exercise in bean-counting.
 The advantage of playing with cars or toy trains is that the maths can creep in without being obvious.
Set up a garage with room for a few cars at a time and, as the cars go in an out, ask how many more can go in before it's full, or how many there will be when the next one goes in.
Try racing them across the dining table or down a hill and keep track of which colour car wins most often: do red ones really go faster?
Hopefully the addition, subtraction and basic probability (when you start guessing which car will win this time) will go entirely unnoticed.
 With trains you can add or subtract carriages, compare long and short trains, estimate how many carriages it will take to carry a particular number of things, use carriages as a unit of measurement (how many carriages is it from that bend in the track to the tunnel?) and do just about anything you could with the cars.
 The trick with all of these is not to stress the maths: if the child doesn't want to add up all the blue cars on the track, don't worry about it, just add them up yourself and move on.

World Building

Blocks are great things for basic maths.
Again you can just count or add them, but it's more fun to play around with it.
Build a tower, then without counting, try to estimate the number of blocks needed to make another one the same size.
Or build two and try to guess how tall they'll be when you put one on top of the other.
Or add the two towers together, or see how many you'd need to remove from one tower to make it the same height as another.
 The maths is more overt here, the trick is just to have fun, and build an amazing city, while you do it.
A good idea is to separate the blocks into their various colours and try to guess how many are in each pile, then build towers as you count them.
Once they're up you can see which tower is tallest, how much bigger it is than the next tallest, what tje difference is between the tallest and shortest towers and so forth.
 If all else fails you can always just try to build a tower to the ceiling.

Colouring by Maths

We got this idea from Nicky, who got it from someone at school.
They're sums, but attractively packaged.
Find a picture or two to colour in on the internet, or use an old colouring book.
Then decide what colours you want to use to colour it in, and assign a number to each colour.
Then label each section with the appropriate colour but, instead of just writing in the number, use a suitable sum.
So to colour a duck green, the child would first need to decode 8-3 or 2x2 to get 4, then look up the number four on their list of colours to find green.
It's far more appealing than it sounds, and again you can choose pictures to suit your current project, or a child's particular interests.
Alternating colours on flags, rows of flowers, or other repetitive images is a good way to introduce some simple pattern-recognition as well.

We've also learned that the people who produced Reading Eggs are in the process of bringing out a new offering: called Mathseeds.
They seem to be offering free trials, so once it's up and running we'll give that a go too.
 I'll let you know whether the sound effects have improved********.

*Unless you're reading Mein Kampf or something.

**Subtraction, obviously.

***Or the multiplication version: Ten Green Tribbles

****Apparently we shouldn't hang people because it isn't very nice.
Running them through with pirate swords is A OK though.

*****If you want to avoid minus numbers try buying dice from a specialist games shop: you can get ten, twelve, or even twenty sided dice, which make subtracting a standard six-sider far less likely to cause problems.
You can even get dice numbered in tens, although using these might mean that you finish your game of Snakes and Ladders a little sooner than you intended.

******You know: roll one (or make ten) to draw the body, roll two (or make eight) to draw the head and so forth.

*******Yes, it does.

********Surely they can't be worse?


  1. Lego is really good for counting too, with the number of bumps needing matching for each level of a tower. So, for instance, a 3 by 2 and a 2 by 1 piece fit on top of a 4 by 2 piece. Which is excellent background understanding of (3x2)+(2x1) = 4x2. And of course can be used to consilidate the understanding that that 3x2 is the same as 2x3 - just turn the block, the numbers remain the same.

    The thing about maths is - there is SO much more than BODMAS to it. Shape, time, measuring (Dan ADORES playing with a tape measure), money (I rarely give a 50p piece for pocket money - I'll give him a 20p and ask what other coins he needs). All these things are fun in themselves, and the calculations get used without noticing.

    And then there's recipes and jigsaws, too, with their stealth maths.

    Dan is counting down to his birthday with an advent calendar atm - and has been telling me how many days to his birthday, and how many weeks - practicing his 7 times table without knowing that's what he's doing! Soon I will be getting him to work it out in hours!

    Maths is a bit of a ninja - it's almost as ubitiquous as reading, if you look for it.

  2. We counted up the money in Ellie's piggy bank last week: to see if she had enough for a Skylander.

    I should also have mentioned the realm of cake-and-pie-based maths (cutting as well as baking, so pi based too).
    Mmmmm pie charts.