Friday, 21 February 2014

Keeping maths practical

I'm not going to lie, I like blowing my own trumpet about Maths in our Nursery. We have worked so hard (especially since this September post) to create a very effective and exciting maths provision area. That's not to say its been an easy journey.  
Firstly we visited the Early excellence centre last year, this gave us a pretty good idea of the direction which we wanted to travel.  
We aimed for a mixture of natural, commercial and everyday objects in quantities between 5 and 20. We also ensured there were opportunities to think about Shape, space and measure (though we admit the focus was mostly on maths).

Since September we have moved around a bit, added new resources and gone with the children's interests with a lot of success.  Below are some of the things which we think make our provision area such a success:

1) A mixture of commercial, everyday and natural objects + some class made resources:

Natural: At the moment we have conkers, pine cones and white kidney beans.  We have had sycamore keys recently as well as acorns.  With the approach of Spring and Easter we will start to add bulbs and seeds.
Commercial: We have large dice, large unifix, bead strings, cotton reels, number fans and small dominoes.  
Everyday objects:  We have 5 green bottles for singing the nursery rhyme, small "jax" toys, duplo. We have had bottle tops, straws and keys.  We tend to have fewer every day objects because they have these in many of the other areas of the setting, but add when we think its necessary.
Class made resources:
We made some dominoes using the children showing their fingers (1-7).  We have also made abacuses using bead strings as well as sticking bottle tops to make "phones" and writing the numbers on (1-9).  Class made resources tend to be short lived and personal so plan to make these with the children for the session where possible. 

2) A washing line.

We haven't had a washing line since before the summer.  We moved on because often it was not used.  We have gone back to using one because there are many great activities you can do with one.
Make sure you have a collection of pegs that are easy for them to use (to develop their fine motor - but not the main priority).  We have a little bucket we store the spares in.
Make sure they have a good collection of objects to hang on the line.  Having just re-introduced it we have socks and plastic numbers but you can have laminate numbers, shapes, any clothes etc.  You could even cut out little laminates characters or elements from nursery rhymes - whatever your children like.

3) Photographs of numbers in the environment.

Make sure you have plenty of photographs or pictures of numbers which they will have seen in the environment themselves.  Think about the lives of your children, especially those who's experiences are limited to the home.  The example opposite is not an exhaustive list, there are so many.  Keep them updated.

4) A great collection of mathematical books:

I don't need to teach you to suck eggs with books.  The books you choose need to be relevant to the activities, games and resources you choose for your provision areas.  The ones we currently have are on the left.  We change these depending on the resources and the likes of the children.
Remember that the books you choose should not just be part of the provision. They should be a part of the play. I.e. you could use them as a starting point for play with a child or use them as reference mid-play.  We, as adults, use books to find out information and that is what we want children to do as well.  

5) Jigsaws and puzzles.

Part of Shape, space and measure is being able to fit pieces into a board.  We aim to provide children with jigsaws with varying degrees of difficulty.  The most basic are those where the piece is copied in the slot so it is a simple matching game.  And at the other end there are those where you need to count the objects and match a numeral, then find the hole.  As well as helping within the SSM strand this also aids their fine motor control.  

6) Child created display/working wall.

When we first introduced shape into the setting we spent the whole week drawing around shapes, cutting and sticking them on the board.  This was the first step into shape and led almost all of the children to get engaged with shape and it had great results.
Every working wall or display you create should be child led, and each piece of work valued as much as the other.  That's not to say a teacher cannot have some creative flair as to its layout, but make sure the children have control where possible. 

7) Evidence of mathematical mark making to inspire children.

Making marks has been a difficult process for our children.  Many of our cohort are unfamiliar with making any marks (especially the boys) so encouraging them to do so requires a lot of creative thinking.  We hung a washing line in our maths area one day and before the end of the session it was full.  Then the marks stopped.  I realised that the children were so eager to exhibit their work that we forgot that there needs to be more quality, thinking and reasoning behind what they do.
The most important thing we have found (since our first realisation) is it is important to consider what type of paper or mark making implements you provide to make marks.  Think about large squared paper or paper with grids on. 
To the left is an example of some basic mark making I did with a girl in my class.  She counted the amount of lady birds that she had and then made a mark to record this.  She also wrote the numeral beneath each line of dots.

Remember: it is important to mark down what they tell you about their creation - the whole point is this mark making makes sense to them and now we want them to explain it!

8) Games which children can play independently.

Children can play games from a young age if they are shown how to play. Games such as snakes and ladders, dominoes and connect four are great games which encourage understanding of counting, number recognition, subtraction, addition, colours and patterns (as well as turn taking of course!). There are plenty of traditional games but then there are the newer, commercial games on the market.  Whatever you choose, ensure that you model the game before you play it and be patient.  You might have to model each game dozens of times before the children can play them independently. 

9) Mathematical investigation area.

We all investigate but sometimes its hard to emerge children with new mathematical experiences.  At the moment the children are noticing the numbers on the clock in the setting, so we have a basket of clocks and watches available for them to look through.  It doesn't even need to be something unusual, in fact it would be better if your investigation area would be full of everyday objects that are just a little bit different.  Our children are looking at the numbers on the clockfaces (in an irregular order) and noticing the way to count, "around."  

10) Everything has a place!

Every box, basket or container should have a picture on the shelf to denote where it goes and what goes inside.  You can add a small numeral to the corner of your photo to help the children know how many of each object belongs there - this will help them at tidy up time.  You should also ensure that there is a stencil in the shape of your container on the shelf.
We also add numbers to the back of our four chairs.  Children put them into an order when it is tidy up time, this gets the language flowing!

Remember to audit your area every few weeks to check that what you're using is effective and relevant.

Further reading/links:

Anna at the imagination tree has designed a fabulous maths investigation area.
Foundations of mathematics (book) has great resources, some of which we use in class.