Did you know that young children are capable of understanding complex math concepts such as algebra and calculus?
I read a fabulous article recently that explained so well how instead of supporting the natural and playful way children learn about maths, we dumb it down into a step by step process which is in complete contrast to how their brains work. Instead of letting them playfully explore big math ideas we bore them with direct instruction in what we think are the easier aspects of mathematics first. They can only move on to more complex areas when they’ve mastered the basics, robbing them of finding the real life meaning and joy in maths.
How many adults remember hating maths class at school, or think they are no good at it? Maybe if we worked WITH children’s brains instead of against them that number wouldn’t be so high. Despite never having direct instruction in maths apart from those times when they have asked me to explain something, I see my children exploring maths every single day. Being ‘schooled’ in maths myself sometimes I don’t even recognize it when I see it. Maths to me always meant numbers, and I’m only now discovering that it is so much more than that.
Reading the article I mentioned earlier I was introduced to this book which explains the ways children can explore complex maths ideas through play. I ordered a copy for myself after reading some great reviews, thinking it would help me gain more understanding about what math actually is! I discovered lots of the ideas inside were things my kids already do, such as making paper snowflakes. Who knew that was maths? Symmetry, multiplication, patterns, rotation, reflection. I’m seeing maths everywhere now!
I wanted to show you something that the girls have been playing with from the book over the past few days that they’ve absolutely loved. It’s really simple and all you need is a couple of mirrors and some loose parts.
Making a mirror book
- Place your two mirrors together, face to face.
- Stick them together with some tape along one edge.
- Open the mirrors up like a book and stand them upright.
Leave the mirror book out with some loose parts and let your children play however they like, exploring symmetry, radial symmetry, angles, patterns, multiplication, tessellation, reflection, shapes, infinity, and more.
I set out our mirror book with some of our Spielgaben pieces and some other blocks and loose parts and left it for the girls to find. At first they just built in front of the mirror, not really taking much notice. Until someone did this.
The refection caught their eye at last and they realised that they could incorporate it into what they were making.
They began placing pieces in front of the mirror with more intention…
…and making beautiful patterns and ‘flowers’.
Even Miss 2 had a go. She enjoyed gently throwing some pieces and watching all the reflected pieces fall in synchronicity.
Miss 2’s finished product. Beautiful chaos.
Over a few days, they’ve been taking turns creating one after the other while the others watch, and made such beautiful patterns.
I love this rainbow flower by Miss 7.
An accidental discovery. When she was going to pack up the rainbow flower she moved the mirrors back and noticed she’d created something different. She then played around with the angles for a while creating different variations with the same parts. They now do this after every creation.
The angle of the mirrors can be changed to make different numbers of reflections. This would be an easy way to explain multiplication visually.
I don’t know whether to call this maths or art, and I guess that’s the point. Most things are not easily divided into subjects. That would be oversimplifying and limiting. Maths, like art, is beautiful and can be found everywhere. Breaking it down into step by step parts makes it seem boring and tiresome. Math, like everything, should be a form of play.
“Math is the beautiful, rich, joyful, playful, surprising, frustrating, humbling and creative art that speaks to something transcendental. It is worthy of much exploration and examination because it is intrinsically beautiful, nothing more to say.” – James Tanton
The girls are creating with our Spielgaben set in the above pictures. An 11% discount is available from Spielgaben for all Happiness is here readers! All you need to do to claim your discount is send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org mentioning Happiness is here and you will be provided with a discount coupon.