Get Messy With Math

Messy Maths: A Playful Outdoor Approach by Juliet Robertson

“Children today have less time outdoors than ever before, with fewer opportunities to try out experiments and play with” numbers and mathematic expressions.

“So it’s more important than ever [to] take learning outdoors, allowing children to build their foundation of concepts and language naturally and confidently.” So says the Global Campaign Director of Outdoor Classroom Day, Cath Prisk.

In Messy Maths, Juliet Robertson gives educators and parents great ideas on introducing math activities for preschoolers and young children. These ideas encourage outdoor play and use readily available material. Many of them don’t look like the math we likely experienced in school. Very few are using pencil and paper.

In North America, we like to keep the term math singular. In other parts of the world, they pluralize it. But don’t let the term maths throw you off here. This is an excellent teaching resource.

Using natural resources is a great way to learn math for one simple reason . . .

“The non-uniformity of natural materials often requires us to think harder and in more divergent ways. This can be illustrated by finding a leaf and tearing it into five pieces. Give your torn-up leaf to a colleague and ask them to put it back together.

Compare this task to completing a manufactured wooden five-piece jigsaw. As well as being a lot cheaper, the leaf is a much more challenging task. There’s no picture to look at, and it can be hard to discriminate between the natural and torn edges or work out which way up the leaf should be.”

One way to encourage mathematical thinking in your children is by using a series of questions or prompts while they are working.

“These prompts are especially useful if you are twitching to intervene. Keep calm and look for the problem-solving strategies being used before offering prompts, which may include the following:

Describing prompts – say aloud what you see the children doing  

– Breaking the problem into smaller parts.
– Acting out an idea. 
– Looking for a pattern. 
– Estimating and then checking in order to improve.
– Working backwards.

Reasoning prompts – I wonder if you could try …?  
– A simpler way. 
– Working with others. 
– Doing one thing at a time. 
– Looking for a pattern. 

Recording the process – why not …?  
– Draw a picture or diagram of what you did or what you want the outcome to be. 
– Make a model. 
– Produce an organised list.  (See also the data-handling ideas in Chapter 11.)

Deepening the learning prompts  
– What worked well? 
– What would you do differently next time? 
– How did you feel when …?  
– Does this remind you of anything else you have done before? 
– It would be useful if you could tell X what you did.

I took lots of notes while reading this book and marked activities that I want to try with my toddler. I will be keep you in the loop if you stay tuned to this blog.

Thanks for reading. Now go have some fun with math!