I am a great fan of Mathematics and truly believe it is one of the subjects that is most relevant to everyday life. Yet, I see so many children in my workshops floundering and getting a grim expression when we bring up Math projects. Math need not be boring or instruction oriented. Something so innate as math, should be taught in a fun and creative way that simulates play.
Mathematics comes naturally to all of us. We use it in our everyday jargon…how far is it? 2 cups of coffee, Half a sandwich, 5 days from now – conversations like these are part of our lives. And, its no different with children. They too absorb all these words and continuously derive meaning out of them. So, it is only natural that such subject be taught in the most natural way. That is why we chose loose parts. Loose parts are simple objects which can be moved and manipulated easily. Examples include beads, buttons, empty toilet paper rolls, clay, straw cleaners etc.
Children start learning early math concepts when they start picking up objects and manipulating them. Integrating loose parts with math exploits this inherent curiosity of children and helps enhance their individual learning curve. There are many activities that can be structured around loose parts and would not require a rupee of expense.
1. Patterning with Loose Parts: You can use material of your choice, so feel free to use pebbles, buttons, cotton balls, marbles or whatever your child is fond of. Once you have the material of your choice, encourage your child to explore the material. See what shapes or patterns she can arrange it in. Once the child starts enjoying, start making definitive patterns like ABAB, AABB, ABBABB etc. The idea is to help your child manipulate the material. Now look around the room and help your child identify various patterns in the room. You will see that floors, curtains, upholstery all are examples of patterns.
2. Counting and Number Recognition: Playing number games is fun. Try this. One person gets to select the number and indicates it with finger count. The other player has to count the fingers and make that number with the selected material. This game is great at building number identification and counting skills.
3. Understanding and Learning Shapes: Discuss shapes with your child. If your child likes drawing, allow her to draw a selected shape on paper and then arrange the loose parts on the boundary of the shape. You can make it tougher by asking your little one to make the shape directly with the material without drawing it first. Count the loose parts used to make the shape. Ask your child if she can make the same shape using fewer/more loose parts.
4. Measurement: Combine loose parts with a doll or any other big object to measure its dimensions using loose parts. Arrange the loose parts in a line equivalent to the dimension of the object being measured and then count the loose parts used. Compare length, width and height of different toys to decide which one is longest, widest and tallest.
5. Estimation: Take a tray and add some loose parts to it. Ask your child to estimate the number of loose parts without counting. After your child has made her guess, count to see if it was correct. It is really a fun game to teach estimation and enhance observation skills.
6. More or Less: Take two bowls and add some loose parts to each. Again, without counting, encourage your child to guess which bowl has more/less. Later, count to find if your child was right.
7. Graphing: Take a square matrix (Math) notebook and few pencils/objects of different lengths. Place the pencil on the Y-axis and help your child graph its length using loose parts. Repeat the step for all the objects. Your graph is ready. This introduces your child to graphing in the most easy way possible. Later, you may add questions on data interpretation from the graph.
These are simple activities which help children relate numbers with quantity, hence, building their quantification skills. Such games should be played often with children. Most of the times your child will add another dimension to these activities. Try not to intervene and let the creativity flow. A whole lot of early math skills will be put to use and combined in these simple activities. This helps children correlate, deduce and understand. When Math is taught as a way of thinking, a deep love and respect for the subject is fostered. We just need to change our way – from instructive to playful thinking.