Q. ‘My 5 year old child is having difficulty understanding different mathematical concepts introduced to him. Can you offer any advice on how to support his understanding’?

 

Math’s like any other area of a child’s learning needs to be catered towards the individual child’s interests and ability. Remembering that every child is different and learns at a different rate is crucial in order to support them effectively. The focus for children in this age group is to manipulate and play with objects so that they can develop clear links between their own environment and the mathematical concepts they are learning. Using opportunities during everyday experiences to explore some of these notions and introduce mathematical terms and language helps the child to relate to the ideas.  For example, cutting fruit to share amongst friends is one of many situations in which different concepts such as halving and sharing can be introduced. Pouring drinks and water play present topics such as capacity and measuring. A child’s understanding of quantifying can be extended and supported further through baking and cooking, as the child gains hands on experience of weighing out ingredients and transferring them into different sized containers.

 

You and your child can explore numbers together in the surrounding environment. Pointing out numbers on buses, signs, houses and prices in shops, help children to understand the importance of numbers and their many uses. Children love to take their real life experiences and explore them further through role play, such as pretending to be a shop keeper or bus driver. When observing children within the classroom, it is amazing to see how much children know and understand about numbers when they are able to relate it to their interests and experiences. Singing songs and playing counting games such as ‘Hide and seek’ and ‘What’s the Time Mr Wolf’, are other ways to reinforce numbers through repetition, pattern and physical interaction.

 

It is important that practical opportunities are available to children to initiate their own mathematical learning through engaging in activities that interest them. Closely following and catering for a child’s individual interests is another valuable way of engaging them in maths-related activities. Making and providing materials that appeal to a child will help to entice and support their learning. If a child, for example, enjoys playing with and learning about cars, then incorporating a car theme into number activities will help spark their interest. Board games with dice are also a fun way to explore mathematical concepts, such as doubling and counting forwards and backwards. Providing regular opportunities for children to engage in practical activities independently, such as sorting clothes into different colour piles for washing, setting the table, counting out cups and cutlery, all allow children to put their knowledge into practice within real life situations. The accomplishment of completing such activities independently helps the child to feel confident in their own abilities and equally trusted that you have faith in them and their abilities also. Children love to feel valued; involving them in the running of the house and paying attention to their aspirations makes them feel important and respected. Take opportunities to further explore a child initiated activity. For example, when children collect objects from the park or beach, provide containers and ways in which the child can sort and count them out into different groups.

 

Maths at this age is heavily focused on concrete objects as opposed to abstract. Montessori saw the importance of the manipulation of objects to aid the child in better understanding their environment. By engaging the use of the stereognostic sense, the child develops a mental picture through the use of touch and movement. Maria Montessori said, “When the hand and arm are moved about an object, an impression of movement is added to that touch. Such an impression is attributed to a special, sixth sense, which is called a muscular sense, and which permits many impressions to be stored in a “muscular memory”, which recalls movements that have been made." The stereognositic sense enables the child to develop a deep muscular impression of different shapes through feeling around 2D insets or manipulating 3D solids. Holding different weights and sized objects also enables the child to develop a real sense of what they feel like. The recognition of numbers can also be further supported in this way, through the child repeatedly tracing over the shape of the individual numbers to gain a muscular impression and understanding of both what each number looks like and its name. Only then will the child be able to order numbers successfully and recognise them at random. Concepts such as addition and subtraction make more sense to a child when they are able to physically interact with materials. Through their own actions and findings, the child is helped to make abstractions and distinctions in their environment, and is given the knowledge not through word of mouth, but through their own experiences.

 

All children can be successful with mathematics, provided that they have opportunities to explore mathematical ideas in ways that make personal sense to them and the freedom to develop their understanding further.

 

 

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