How do children 'learn'? Different temperaments have different learning styles, which means of course that the motivation behind learning varies. Experts have identified three major pathways: visual (sight), kinaesthetic (sensory, movement, use of body) and auditory (sound). There are several classifications: one that makes sense to me is the one by June Griswold, a teacher for 16 years who was inspired by two books by Thomas Armstrong and personal experience. She identifies four styles: visual, kinaesthetic, verbal and logical. Learning styles are already defined by the age of about seven, and they may have been determined by conditioning but also by natural temperament.
Individuals 'learn' because it serves them in some way, and children of course are more instinctive than adults. Regardless of learning style, a young child will want to learn something as a way of exploring the world, and will use all senses: this is because the rational brain is not yet in many cases ready to retain information merely from sitting down and 'taking notes'. There are simple strategies that can help parents of young children to make math 'child friendly' and I'd like to share a few math games children can play. The children can absorb important mathematical concepts and have lots of fun at the same time! Here are a few ideas:
• Find geometrical shapes in the room or outdoors; count trees, flowers, cars, people.
• Count numbers in the body! One mouth, nose, head; two eyes, ears, hands, feet; three parts (shoulders + head); four active limbs, parts in the heart; five fingers on each hand; ten toes; high numbers, hair, teeth. Addition/subtraction: loosing or growing new teeth.
• Practice writing numbers on each other's back
• In a circle, get the children to form geometrical shapes using the 'circle' while holding hands
• In a circle, give each child a number. When you call odd numbers, all the odd numbers will come forward; when you call even numbers, all the even numbers will come forward; then count backwards; and then faster!
• Give each child a number (or more than one if you have only a few children). Write a simple sum on the board (such as 5 + 4 for example): number 5 and 4 will come forward and form a bridge with their arms. The result number, 9 in this case, will have to run under the bridge!
• You need a dice and dried beans or pebbles. Each player throws the dice and picks as many beans as the dice indicates: the first player to get to twenty wins!
• Get the children to recite their time tables while clapping hands with each other
The principle behind these games is that it's easier for young children to learn if a kinaesthetic/sensory principle is applied to a mathematical concept. Adults don't fully appreciate that the child cannot simply 'rationalise' information: this is because physiologically the child is at a developmental stage where the relevant neurological pathways are not fully formed.
This is why many children don't respond well to lessons centred on verbal and logical abilities: certainly, there should be something of the above, but also a mix of activities that centre on learning through movement and play. The above examples are only a few ideas to make math 'friendlier' and fun for young children. It's absolutely ok to adapt them to smaller groups or to creatively add new ideas: the most important thing is that the children understand the concept at the centre of the game!
Hetu Sylvie Elmsater Mia, Touch in Schools, Ur Publications and Programmes, Montreal, 2010