Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Teaching Math

If I had a nickel for every time I said, "I hate math!" I'd be a very rich woman indeed. In fact I finally, FINALLY got over my fear of math when I was shopping with my husband and we came across a %off sign. Something we wanted to buy was $69.99 and it was 25% off that price. My husband said, "So it's...(and he paused to figure it out)" I said it's about $53.00. He looked rather surprised and asked how I had figured it out so fast. So a said, "I rounded up to 70 and then did half, which is 35 and then half again which is 17, 70 minus 17 is 53." He laughed, "No, I know how, but how did you do it so fast?" I shrugged, because honestly I didn't know. I was struck because I always thought I was awful at math and percentages is math and I just realized that I was good at percentages! Slowly I started to realized that I was good at math and that in fact I didn't hate it. Math was rather fun.

When I started teaching my own kids, I never allowed them to say that they hated math or the math was hard. When ever they expressed frustration with math, I would tell them that they just needed to be more familiar with whatever it was that we were working on. Now when they come to something challenging they actually dive in and try to see it in as many different ways as they can until they feel comfortable.

So how do we teach very young kids math? I don't think we should, at least not in a traditional work sheet type of way. For young kids I love rocks. You can get a nice bag of big rocks at Dollar Tree. They love sorting the rocks. I let them become familiar with whatever manipulative (parents and teachers love that word...hehe) we are working with. So I'll set out the rocks and let them touch them, stack them, count them, play with them in anyway they choose for at least two days. Then I bring out the egg carton. Each space labeled with numbers 1 through 12. I ask them to filled each space with the "amount" of rocks that the number indicates. Language in math is important. I use the word "amount" not the word "number." A number is after all abstract. Amount is tangible. Much laughing ensues after about filling the fifth slot. "The rocks are too big!" "They don't fit." I love this next step where the kids problem solve. Very few have no concept of what to do. (It usually comes after a while or with a little prodding) Most kids will say they need smaller rocks or a bigger container.

The best way to teach math is to let children count, add, subtract, divide and multiply with their hands, through touching, sorting, filling, cutting, emptying and grouping. This makes math very real. As they get older they won't be intimidated by long division because they been doing just that!

I prefer to let children do all of the above with rocks, twigs, dolls, dishes, hot wheels etc. The more they are allowed to relate math to their surroundings the easier it will be for them to identify how math is used everyday. Baking and cooking are also excellent tools to teach math, as are knitting or crocheting. Keep it simple, keep it real.