Maths was never a favourite subject of mine at school, it was all numbers, equations and brackets to me. I mean have you ever needed to know the cosine, tangent or any other trigonometric correct term for an angle in your adult life? Well, maybe if you are an architect, but most of us are not.
Maths made no sense to me, it had no context, and for that reason, I believed that I was no good at it. It wasn’t until I went to university and began to learn how to teach mathematics to children, that I realised that there were a million different ways to understand mathematical concepts and solve mathematical problems and they all came up with the same answer.
If I said to you, “using only two numbers and one mathematical operation, give me a way to make 100,” you could give me over 1000 different answers and all would be correct. This idea opened my eyes and made me realise that every person looks at a mathematical problem differently, the days of learning one method to solve a problem just to find the ‘correct’ answer are gone, good riddance!
The other belief changing statement that my maths lecturer gifted me with was this:
“If you are a person who wants to know why things happen, you will find maths more difficult to learn, than if you are a person who accepts that a formula works and you use it because it works, without question.”
I am hoping that my desire to understand why things happen and how things work, gives me a deeper understanding of the subject and enables me to teach it in a hands on, practical way where there are a million paths to find the answers.
Below are a few simple maths based activities that you can use at home, but we use maths every single day, so use these experiences too. You can support your child’s learning by telling the time, cooking together, recognising numbers, measuring, counting, singing, and playing shops, for example. Playing with maths and giving it context is the best way to learn!
Lines of symmetry
Looking for lines of symmetry in everyday places is a fun activity for children. We took some small acrylic mirrors (you can buy these on the internet) on a walk and used them to see whether objects and images were completely symmetrical.
This is a really practical, hands on way to look at symmetry. Some shapes have more than one line of symmetry and some things, like our faces, look symmetrical but they are not! Try it for yourself and see what you would look like if your face was completely symmetrical.
Photograph your symmetrical and non-symmetrical shapes and maybe create a list of shapes that have one line of symmetry and shapes that have more than one line of symmetry.
You could extend this activity by creating symmetrical butterfly prints. Fold a sheet of paper in half, open it up again and then squirt paint on one side. Fold the paper in half once more and squash all of the beautiful colours together. (This can be messy! Cover the table and wear aprons.)
Open your butterfly print and leave it to dry before using your mirror to see whether you have made a symmetrical picture.
Play with shape and pattern
Shape and pattern are all around us, and the more you look for them, the more you see. Why not go for a walk and look for different shapes in your local area? You could write or draw a list of shapes that you find and make a tally chart, or photograph them all and make a collage.
You could look for 3D shapes and you could research why different objects or buildings are particular shapes. You could even design and make your own buildings.
In the lock down lessons below, there is a lesson on creating 3D shapes, with a printable PDF if you wanted to make some at home. It also includes a shape scavenger hunt activity.
There are lots of ways to play with 2D shapes as well. We like to use 2D shapes to create beautiful patterns and designs. You could make mosaics, or try drawing pictures using only 2D shapes, or maybe create your own wallpaper or wrapping paper designs, by printing or colouring. All of these activities use mathematical ideas, but in a more creative and holistic way.
Another way to develop mathematical thinking is also through origami. We LOVE origami at The Do Try This at Home School HQ and we use it often. There are so many videos on YouTube, teaching you how to make origami shapes, animals and more, and many of the tutorials are very simple. We loved making these advent stars using origami.
If there is a way to learn maths which involves cake, I am all for it! Of course you could also use other food stuffs, like chocolate bars or pizzas, but cake works just fine.
Here is Mary Berry's Recipe for fairy cakes, and don't forget that cookery also involves a huge amount of maths, from counting out the cupcake cases, to oven temperatures, time and weighing of ingredients, it all supports mathematical thinking.
You will need:
A 12 hole cake tin (if you have one)
100g (4 oz) softened butter
100g (4oz) caster sugar
2 large eggs
100g (4oz) self raising flour
1 level tsp baking powder
Icing sugar, food colouring and icing pens to decorate.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/ gas mark 6. Place your cupcake cases in the bun tin. Count them as you go. Bun tins are also great for learning 3 and 4 times tables, we sometimes count in threes and fours.
Cream the butter and the sugar together in a large bowl and then add the eggs. Sift in the self-raising flour and add the baking power. Beat the ingredients together for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is well blended and smooth.
Spoon into the cupcake cases. Here you are dividing your mixture equally into 12 parts (12ths) Again you could use your bun tin to look at fractions. 3/12 is the same as 1/4 or you could ask, how many cakes would I have if we only baked half of these?
Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes until the cakes are well risen and golden brown. Ask the children to tell you what time you need to remove them from the oven.
Leave the cakes to cool.
Mix up your icing. We used lots of different colours for ours. Once they were all iced, we used icing pens to mark on the different fractions, before we ate our mathematical creations!
During lockdown, I created a series of lessons to support children's learning at home. I worked for a full month creating and teaching lessons in English, Maths, Science and Art. Below, in the colourful boxes, are the links to all of the maths activities, prompts and videos. Enjoy!
Below are all of the activity sheets to support these lessons. Hover over each one to read what the file is, or read the instructions in the colourful boxes to find out which file/s go with each activity.
To accompany the maths lessons, I also created 10 Lego challenge prompts. Why not have a go at some of these too?