Young children are naturally intrigued with the world of numbers. They come to school excited to learn and explore. In a certain way, a sense for numbers is inherent in young children because numeracy is embedded in their physiognomy, and in the world around them. A child has 10 toes, 10 fingers, 2 eyes, and 1 mouth. Dogs have 4 legs and clovers have 3 leaves. In all of the lower grades the teacher reinforces this physical connection to numbers through clapping games and rhythmic exercises. Stomping out the four times tables in rhythm is such fun. To do so in a circle with the entire class is a challenge every young child is ready to take up. Counting up to three hundred, and clapping on only the fives takes focus and is exhilarating at the same time. Also, it is a memorable experience that gives children something to hold on to as they begin to apply mathematical skills independently.
The emerging mathematician’s sense of number is very strong; every young child is a mathematician. In First Grade, the focus is on calling the child’s attention to the numbers in his or her life. How many people are in your family? How many children are in our class? How many girls? How many boys? All four of the basic processes are introduced, and the child becomes familiar with them through the use of tactile manipulation with stones, an abacus, and even themselves. What if we want to divide the class into three even groups? Can we do it? Mathematical stories (the precursor to word problems) are used every day to practice arithmetic and critical thinking, as well as to reveal the reciprocal relationships between the four processes.
Second Grade continues to build a strong foundation with the four processes, but now we ask for more awareness from individual students. Classes work together to recognize patterns in the times tables, and through artistic renditions, movement exercises and daily practice, the children gain real insight into the beauty of these patterns. What happens when you draw lines between the numbers of the two times tables on a circle of twelve? How about the seven times tables? Beautiful geometric shapes are found, and we can celebrate the beauty of numbers! Additionally, in Second Grade, an investigation is begun into the intricacies of place value, using tactile aids and stories to bring depth and relevance.
In Third Grade, practical activities are an important part of the curriculum. Children learn about building, gardening, fiber arts and baking. Math fits perfectly into these themes and activities. The children begin to look beyond the classroom towards units of measurement. Through baking and building, the children build a firm physical relationship with mathematics. These solid foundational math skills can then be accessed when the work becomes more abstract the following year.
In Fourth Grade we introduce fractions, which the child really began working with the year before on a more practical level. Now the child learns how to apply the four processes to fractions, reducing and expanding them and turning them into mixed numbers. We continue to use practical experiences and visual and tactile aids to bring meaning and context to more abstract processes.
Throughout every grade, our teachers are aware of each child’s strengths and challenges, and the subject of math is no different. We have many students for whom the math curriculum moves a little too quickly, and some for whom it moves not nearly quickly enough! But in math, as in other areas, there are tools in every teacher’s toolbox for reaching every student in a way that meets them just where they are. There are always more problems to solve, challenges to overcome, bonus problems for a student who needs that extra challenge, and there is always time to recite that 8 times table just one more time.