Mini Mathmagicians

It’s a number two, it’s a number two! I smiled smugly at the sink of washing up like something from a fairy advert, glowing with pride as my little darling, just three at the time was clearly engaging with the number line I’d so lovingly created that morning. ‘Is it sweetheart!’ I shouted proudly – ‘you are so clever!’ ‘Mummy, mummy can I have a sweet, I didn’t do it in the potty because I couldn’t find it so I’ve just done it on the floor there.’ Lovely. Add this to my loooong list of parenting and teaching misunderstandings and I honestly could write a blog!

Number 2, one and indeed every other number in between are ones that your child will need to know as they begin school, I love teaching and I love helping parents to better understand the curriculum because its only then, by working in true partnership that children can become their best. I am a true believer in children learning through play and that parents are our number one educators and if that is the case, its always unbelievably helpful if parents understand a little about the expectations placed on our little ones and the targets they are expected to achieve.

Every education provider, whether that be school nursery, childminder, private nursery are all legally bound to use government documents in order to assess your child in each of the seven areas of learning. The Early Years Foundation Stage Document covers children’s development from birth to five, culminating in a set of Early Years Goals that are used at the end of reception to indicate whether your child is working at an expected level of development, below expected level of development or exceeding. Development Matters breaks this statutory document down into age ranges from birth to five and provides activities and suggested questions that parents or educators may ask or do with their children to meet the set objectives.

This is not something that I’d get hung up about, and I’m certainly not suggested downloading target trackers and ‘next step,’ boards for the home but it is useful to know a little about how you can help your child at home with their learning in a fun, play based environment. One of the biggest traps parents can fall into is thinking that they have to do some ‘sit down focus time,’ with their little ones. There’s definitely a time and a place for building concentration but you can do this through play – your little one need never know they are actually learning. And this is where it becomes quite useful to know a little about the expectations for your child’s age. For example lets take the early learning goal for number which reads as follows

Early Learning Goal

Children count reliably with numbers from one to 20, place them in order and say which number is one more or one less than a given number. Using quantities and objects, they add and subtract two single-digit numbers and count on or back to find the answer. They solve problems, including doubling, halving and sharing.

If children are expected to be able to count forward and backwards to 20 by the time they are 5, begin counting EVERYTHING. Stairs as you walk them, steps as you take them, when on the swing – count backwards from 20 and when reaching zero let another child take their turn. Count things you find in the park, conkers, trees, leaves, sheep cows, cars. There are literally counting opportunities everywhere! In the first instance – work with numbers to 5, then 10 and work up. You don’t always have to start at number one either – pick a number with your child and count on or backwards from that number – this is a great, often tricky activity but it really helps children to gain an understanding of number and pattern of number. Try going on a number hunt in your street. What numbers can your little one find on car registration plates, doors, bins, road signs, what is the biggest number, what is the smallest number, can they write that number with their finger on your hand, take a little clip board and a pack of post it notes out with you for a number challenge. Often, as soon as we add the word, challenge or game to something our children’s eyes light up. Engagement and excitement about learning is one of the biggest things you can give your child. When your little one has mastered counting by rote, move on to counting reliably. Children need to touch one object and say one number. Board games are brilliant for this as they encourage social skills, concentration and turn taking too. Moving the counter one space for every number they count is a skill that many children entering school don’t have anymore. Virtual games on Ipads, computers and tablets take away the act of moving pieces accurately. Again, anything can be counted. We need 4 forks for tea can you get me 4 out of the drawer. We need 2 bowls, 3 pencils. The more you can encourage counting in a real life setting the more practice your child will get and link being able to count as an important skill to learn.

As the weather gets nicer so much can be done outdoors too. Draw numbers with chalk on the pavement and play number stamp – you say a number and they stamp on it. This can be done with numbers to 3 firstly and built up dependent on your little ones ability. Use water guns to squirt numbers or to hit number targets. You can make some cards with different quantities on e.g. 3 ducks and say ‘squirt the picture with 3 ducks.’ In this way, children are actively engaged in learning and as you can see none of these ideas require you to sit down with a pencil and concentrate. As your child becomes more confident with number you can make the same resources and play the same games using the language of more and less – again, start off small and build up to 20. Stamp on the number that is one more than 2. Squirt the number that is 1 less than 3. Use old socks and pegs to make a child’s washing line for ordering numbers. Write on the socks with permanent marker and get your little one to peg them in order onto the line – this is great for building up fine motor control in the fingers which is key for writing too.

Number is literally all around us and you’ll be surprised how many your children can spot when introduced to them just while they’re out and about. Look for prices in supermarkets and let your children handle real money. Give them a shoping list with numbers on – 4 apples, 2 tins of beans, 6 eggs etc.  All of these real life experiences will help them so much as they begin their school journey. Once parents better understand what the expectations of the curriculum are, the further they can help embed and embellish this learning at home. Your child will have such a head start if you merely play with them whilst also having a basic knowledge of the end goals and expectations. Rolling dices, give me 6 claps, 5 jumps, 4 air punches, throwing beanbags into a hoop how many landed in the hoop, how many outside, how many altogether – simple addition and subtraction games that can be done anywhere. Counting rhymes like 5 fat sausages, 10 green bottles, 5 cheeky monkeys jumping on the bed, one elephant went out to play, all show us the basics of addition and subtraction. Get your child to start recording the numbers on a whiteboard or post it note or selecting the correct numeral to match when you’re singing the song.

Your little one will be a mathmagician in no time if you can incorporate five or ten minutes of play based learning into your routine. Just remember though, research suggests your child’s attention span is a minute plus their age so don’t worry if they seem to lose interest in activities quickly. If your little one is 3 the maximum length of time for an activity ideally is around 4 minutes (On a good day!) Enjoy hunting for numbers with your little one – I’d love to know how you get on! Hopefully there will be no number 2 type announcements to fill you with dread but lets face it – kids will be kids!

I post educational ideas, hints and tips on my facebook page @Beautiful.New.Beginnings and also run starting school workshops focussing on early writing, reading and number skills.