We are in the middle of a real interest in numbers and maths at the moment with Frida. Suddenly, she can read (and mostly write, using her math materials) numbers up to a hundred, count way past a hundred, and do basic addition and subtraction in her head. She is fascinated by square numbers, by the concepts of division and multiplication, by the multitude of ways you can make up a certain number.

This has been a love that has sprung up completely organically, though boosted in part I think by watching a few episodes of a children’s programme on numbers called Numberblocks on a car journey which has really fed into this current interest; I wouldn’t say I recommend it but Frida would disagree… Her interest has been a joy to watch, and a brilliant reminder that just because we are embracing child-led learning it doesn’t mean that she’ll never learn “traditional” subjects. My husband and I are encouraging this interest simply by talking to her a lot, answering her questions, and not getting in her way, and she also has a small number of math materials available to use.

Some of the maths materials Frida has been using are:

  • Wooden Montessori place value cards (I can’t find a link to these online but I know they’re out there somewhere because I bought them, sorry!) Frida enjoys using these to “write” numbers, especially our house number. It’s a really good material for understanding how numbers are structured (hundreds, tens, units).
  • Grimms counting stack game. This is great for figuring out number combinations up to ten.
  • Grimms arithmetic cards. Again, these are used to make numbers, or to work on basic sums. These aren’t used a huge deal but I can see them being used more in future.
  • Grimms maths friends. These have been quite a fun way to introduce the maths symbols (plus, minus, multiply, divide, equals).

In addition Frida has lots of loose parts, blocks, and so on to use. I have also ordered the first book in the Life of Fred series, as so far Frida seems to learn far better through discussion than through using physical materials. We’ll see if she enjoys it; if she doesn’t, I certainly won’t push it.

We also have some small Montessori number rods and a small selection of Montessori golden beads (to show visually hundreds, tens, and units, but Frida has never been drawn to these and barring a sudden change of heart I think we will pass them to a friend. I’m slowly learning that just because some materials work well for some children, it doesn’t mean they’ll work well for Frida. I’m so grateful that I’m able to see first hand how she learns and so shift my approach to cater to her needs.

With this in mind, I want to be really clear: I don’t think she needs any of the materials I have described in this post. The grand majority of the number and maths work that Frida does just involves her chatting, working things out in her head, asking questions, or counting on her fingers. Asking us what three and five add up to – and then telling us herself – or musing that zero minus zero is still zero.

Depending on your child’s preferred way of learning, they may love using maths manipulatives or materials. They might love books about numbers. Or they might just use what’s around them. Just because these things have been helpful for Frida, it doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily be the right fit for your child, and I strongly believe that children need much less than we often believe.

To introduce numbers and basic maths concepts, here are some easy things you can do in the home and out and about:

  • Talk about numbers. Age, guessing quantities, talking about time and dates, explaining how much things cost. Make numbers part of your everyday conversations with your child.
  • Point out numbers! House numbers, page numbers, numbers on food packets and on buses and on clocks and in magazines.
  • Develop number recognition by looking up a page number on a table of contents or index (this is great for literacy too) and then finding the correct page in the book.
  • Have loose parts for your child to play with (for counting, patterns, sorting, you name it!)
  • Follow recipes together, paying attention to numbers in the recipe and on scales.
  • Count things – fingers, toys, birds, objects in pictures, grapes, pencils, dogs. You name it, you can count it together. I love the Usborne 1001 Things to Spot books for counting and number recognition up to ten.
  • Go shopping for groceries together. This leads to discussion about quantity and price.
  • Introduce pocket money (at an appropriate age). This introduces so many concepts! Addition, subtraction, saving, reading numbers.
  • Share out toy food between teddies, raspberries between bowls, or cookies between friends.

If you’re interested in why and how we’re choosing to home educate, you might enjoy my blog post answering some FAQ on the subject.

Posted by:Eloise R

2 replies on “Child-led learning: Numbers + early maths (age 3.5)

  1. Those cards are absolutely beautiful! I really admire your child-led approach in homeschooling as well. We are really considering homeschooling (our toddler will/would be starting preschool in September), but I often doubt myself. I find your posts very inspiring, so thank you 🙂

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