Creative Maths – The Right to Play

Did you eat more grapes or slices of apples? How many more?

What do you know about the number 25?

Think about your own childhood. Was it filled with tests? Did you cry because you did not want to go to school? Did you worry about your results?

In many parts of the world, the pressure on young children is increasing. Young children are tested at an earlier stage and although assessment in itself is not necessarily a bad thing, the way the assessments are used and designed is worrying. A playful approach to testing can reveal so much more about a child’s thinking than a traditional approach where a child is tested on superficial skills such as naming letter and numbers.

If we want children to continue to be curious and imaginative, we need to support them to develop different approaches to thinking such as creative and criticall. We also need to help them to develop self-esteem and emotional intelligence. Many problems are solved by working together so social skills should also be part of young childhood learning environment.

Early childhood learning should be meaningful filled with play and engaging projects where art and tinkering are used to encourage children to explore the world. In some preschools and primary schools, art is increasingly used to encourage children to explore science and maths. Hopefully, more schools will see the benefits of a creative approach where children are allowed and encouraged to pose questions and to explore these questions.

In advanced maths it is importance to have your own ideas about how maths work and also being able to test and see if these ideas are correct. A similar approach can be used when teaching young children by allowing them to ask questions, make observations and using a creative approach to test their own ideas. This approach is different from testing a child to see if they can correctly add things together.

A practical example is to make a mathematical art gallery. Search for objects at home or in the classroom (or in nature) that then make up a visual number sentence. For example, one pine cones plus two leaves equal three objects. Take a photo of the art paintings and then discuss the maths art works.

A pine cone can be arranged in five different rows and a child may notice this and draw a new sketch where five rows on a pine cone plus two leaves equal seven. These types of discoveries may help your child to be more confident and it is also an essential aspect of being a mathematician. Looking for new ideas and patterns.

I remember a maths test that came back with the following remark: “You got the right answer but this problem could have been solved in a much simpler way by . . .” Inventing your own methods to solve problems is not only more fun – children love to explore how things work and finding out the solution – it is also a great tool for solving harder maths problems.

Some ideas to encourage a creative approach to maths

  • Allow children to make observations and to ask questions.
  • Look for patterns and sequences – such as three pieces of apple and two grapes on the plate.
  • Use prompts to encourage a child to pose questions such as “What do you notice about this number?”
  • Teach children to pose their own “What if” and “How”questions. For example, “What if you have a choose between buying raspberry or chocolate ice cream?” How can you decide?” To answer these questions maybe you need more information and letting a child discover these things lead to a deeper understanding and better thinking skills.
  • Ask your child to write stories based upon a number sentence. This is not an easy task so some prompting might be helpful.
  • Ask your child how they know? The answer might be very short or extremely complicated and long. . . Enjoy it and marvel at the number of ways a problem can be solved. Think dive into a world filled with maths possibilities

Go here to read research about Managing Creativity in the Classroom.

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