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Learn to count in a multi-sensory way

How to teach new ideas so that your child understands

Alexis Ralphs Apr 09 • 7 min read
Finding just the right words to explain a new concept to your child can be tricky. Often, the best way can simply be to tackle it from more than one angle.

Making connections is something you’ll often hear teachers talk about. All teachers know that to truly understand something, children need to learn about it from many different angles. Rather than explaining a fixed concept, we are always striving to create a web of ideas, trying to show them how the thing they are learning is connected to something they already know.

At school the way we teach maths illustrates this concept perfectly.

When we talk about a number, what we really mean is - what is it about this number that makes it unique? The three-ness of three, as it is sometimes described.

To truly understand the number three, you have to learn to use:

  1. Concrete materials such as beads, toys or fingers. Physical objects that you can touch as you count.
  2. Symbols, to represent the physical objects above. For example, writing the number 3, or a tally chart with three marks or pressing the 3 on a computer keyboard.
  3. Language and words like ‘plus’, ‘equals’ and expressions such as ‘how many altogether?’
  4. Pictures such as number lines, or set diagrams (the individual sets of a venn diagram)

Learning to count with Grapat acorns

You will never learn maths by writing out sums. Being told that two plus one equals three is meaningless unless you have first held two sweets in your hand and then been given one more.

And seeing 2 + 1 on the page means nothing without first knowing that the symbols are read as ‘two plus one equals three’.

And knowing all the above without understanding that it can be shown on a number line, deprives you of the strategies you need to make use of the numbers.

The answer is to find ways to integrate all the different kinds of understanding. Some examples when learning about the number three would be:

  • Playing hopscotch or snakes and ladders to see that being in position two, then moving forward one space takes us to three. We are making connections.
  • Seeing that the three dots on a die mean the same as the number three, having three toys and hopping three times.
  • Playing a game of football in the garden and using chalk to keep tally of the score on a nearby wall.
  • Clapping out a three-beat rhythm, for example 'sea, sea, sea' when singing A sailor went to sea.

Bring maths to life by solving real problems

Don’t worry if this has never occurred to you before. As a parent, it’s highly likely that you help your child to make connections all the time. Whether counting the number of bananas in a bunch at the supermarket, or asking them to help you set the table and working out how many plates they’ll need, it is instinctive for most of us.

Making connections like this is a great way to help your child learn numbers and simple maths before they start school. There’s no need to overthink it. Just use numbers whenever you can in everyday life.

More connections = deeper understanding.

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