Monday, 20 April 2015

“How Can I help My Child Learn Math?” – A Simple Equation

One generic definition of learning put forward by Eric Jenson can be expressed as a simple equation:

Learning = Understanding + Memory

The equation may be simple but the underlying theory is often complex and profound.  Relatively recently we have learnt more about how the brain functions in relation to learning and specifically how children learn.

In the last post we considered learning styles and how they impact on your child. 
Many argue that children need to be taught according to their preferred style – visual, auditory, tactile/kinesthetic and possibly logical/analytical. The truth is we all learn through a mix of these approaches and by far the best way to ensure understanding is taking place is, wherever possible, to adopt a multi sensory approach often referred to as ‘whole brain learning’. 

This involves engaging both hemispheres of the brain through the ‘learning channels’ of sight, hearing/speech and active involvement. Not always easy to achieve.

I once involved my school in a project that embraced all the learning styles and gave children an opportunity to learn through an approach or ‘learning channel’ that suited them best. It also had the added benefit of getting children to ‘teach’ other children. One of the best ways to really understand something is to ‘teach’ it to someone else. However it was not an approach that could be implemented per se.

I will outline this project in a future post.

It would be totally impractical and extreme to adopt a ‘learning style model’ that attempts to cater for a child’s individual learning preference as these are not fixed points but part of a dynamic process of development. It is more important to focus on the subject matter and ensure that the ‘teaching style’ is an effective fit for what is being taught.

Maths has suffered more than most in this respect. When math concepts are first introduced it is important that it is through practical experiences that involve colour. Colour can emphasize and reveal mathematical relationships. 

The underlying principle of the maths program we are looking at in these posts is ‘learning through understanding’ not ‘learning by rote.’ That is why the tool we have chosen to fully engage the child is Cuisenaire rods.

Given a set of rods children instinctively play with them, a tactile/kinesthetic activity.
Their different colours provide a greater stimulus for memory recall than verbal cues or objects. (Backman et al and Allen) Colour (visual) also aids mental imaging. It enables children to visualize mathematical concepts as colourful patterns and relationships.

By giving the rods letter names children soon learn how to create and ‘read’ (auditory) ‘trains’ of rods. In effect simple equations or 'mathematical sentences' they have created. These equations become increasingly complex as more maths concepts are introduced.


g + g + g + r = y + y + w

Play, open ended tasks and challenges are the way in which each new concept is introduced. 

In the early stages of the program the predominantly kinesthetic/tactile approach afforded by the rods is the channel that enables your child to understand basic maths concepts. This must be consolidated by memory recall. We remember via our senses.

You can begin to increase your child’s capacity for recall now by engaging his/her senses in every activity. 

Many children suffer from ‘short term memory’ loss or leakage and this can have a devastating impact upon their capacity to learn. A multi sensory approach will help these children immeasurably.

We have all experienced an occasion when a smell, a sound, a colour, or a particular taste triggers memories we often did not know we possessed. The smell of leather transports me back to my first day in school. I see murals on the wall that have long since disappeared. Experience once again the panic of being abandoned by my mother for a whole day!

Always try to engage the child’s imagination it is the most powerful ability the brain possesses.

Whenever children created something specific with the rods (a 'directed activity') I always tried to stimulate their imagination.

If you ask your child to build a castle with the rods then first ask them to imagine themselves standing outside the castle.
What might they see, smell, hear, taste? Get them to ‘see’ the object they are about to create in their mind.

Maths is the one subject that causes more distress among children than any other.

Help Your Child Succeed’s flagship program ‘Child’s Play Maths’ teaches concepts through play and open ended challenges with a strong emphasis on visual learning, hands on activities and self-discovery. It is a unique program that aims to create a positive attitude towards maths.

Part One will be available in July 2016. 

While I can't afford to give everybody a set of rods I have created a software app that simulates the rods.

 In the sidebar you will see an animated gif of a Starship. 
Click the image and you will be taken directly to where you can download this app for free.

In the NEXT POST a demonstration video will show you how it works. 

Monday, 13 April 2015

Learning Math - Know Your Child's Learning Style.

Each of us has a preferred learning style. Are you aware of yours? 
Broadly speaking there are 4/5 different learning styles: 
  • Visual, 
  • Auditory, 
  • Kinesthetic/Tactile and, some would argue, 
  • Analytical/Logical. 
 Although we adopt a mix of styles there is always one that is predominant. 
 This presents schools with a challenge. 
 How do they ensure every child is taught the way he/she likes to learn best?
Homeschooling parents on the other hand have the responsibility of choosing
the program that best matches their child's preferred learning style.

Do you know what your child's dominant learning style is? Would you know how to identify it? If you would like to know more an excellent place to start would be an article by Fiona Fuller entitled 'Learning Styles in Children' that appeared in To read the article click here.
Young children are often predominantly Kinaesthetic/Tactile learners and manipulatives like Cuisenaire rods are perfect tools for exploration and discovery. The math program outlined in this blog naturally embraces all the learning styles and is therefore ideal for children regardless of the fact every child learns in a way unique to them.
There are specific words and phrases that children need to become familiar with and these can be introduced during FREE PLAY or DIRECTED ACTIVITIES.
e.g 'Build Noddy's House."

Because young children are more naturally kinaesthetic learners introducing the vocabulary this way will ensure they understand and retain it.

This is also true for older children and adults who, for whatever reason, did not understand math concepts the first time around. 

I first truly understood Pythagoras' Theorem when I saw it demonstrated with the rods and then made it myself.

Adults have found this approach very liberating especially as, often for the first time, they are able to ‘see’ patterns and relationships that traditional teaching methods had ’hidden’ from them.

I will shortly be releasing Part one of Child's Play Maths a play based program for children aged 5 to 11.
Originally the program was called 'Ensure Your Child Succeeds at Maths' but I felt 'Child's Play Maths' more accurately describes what the program is about. Part One consists of a manual, PPT Presentations and twenty nine instructional videos. It is due out in July 2016.

Here is Video Tutorial Unit 5 - Important Words and Phrases.

The next post will focus on a simple learning equation that that reveals how children can easily become effective learners.

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Why Children Should Be Taught Algebra Before Arithmetic

'Algebra before arithmetic', you are probably thinking, "Is this guy nuts!"

I imagine many of you reading this still have nightmares as you recall  trying to understand what those strange hieroglyphics called equations your teacher scrawled on the black/white board were all about. Now this guy wants our children to learn it while they are young!

The approach outlined in these blog posts deliberately introduces children to algebra before arithmetic.


Because it really is easier for children to understand maths concepts when they have something concrete to refer to. This is because number itself is an abstract concept and difficult for young children to grasp.

For example, if I asked you to, "Fetch me five," you would probably reply, "Five what?"

That is why when early years teachers introduce number it is always in relation to some thing. 'Four ducks', 'three kittens' and so on. Yet freed from the constraint of wrestling with the abstract concept of number children can actually gain an understanding of maths concepts normally considered 'too advanced' for their years.

It is easier for children to learn basic math concepts via algebra before being Introduced to number. The rods provide a concrete base that children are more than comfortable with. Colour is the key. Initially the children are introduced to the colour names of the rods and this is a perfectly obvious and natural process.

When number is eventually introduced for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, children will have no problem because the concepts are already familiar to them. The software has been created to help facilitate the transition from colour to number. (Please note that it will not be freely available indefinitely).

Young children can be introduced to the vocabulary they will need over a short period of time. Older children will grasp it very quickly. Young children are also quick to understand that 'o' represents orange.

                                Letter Names                       Colour Names

They will eventually read and write ‘sentences’ or equations they have made and can visualise in their head.
     t + r = o

   Later they will have no problem exchanging ‘number names’ for ‘letter names’.
         8 + 2 = 10

Visualizing or mental imaging is just one of the abilities the brain possesses and needs to be encouraged and developed. This is something we shall consider in a future post.

Take a look at Unit 4 of the Child's Play Maths Video Tutorials for more information.

Our next post will focus on introducing important words and phrases that children will need to know before moving on.

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Incidental Learning and Your Child,

This is not a post about how computer games can help children learn but I bet you already know something about how it is supposed to work.

The info graphic above practically demands to be read.
Most of our learning is non-conscious. Schools, for example, make regular use of displays to communicate information to children (and parents). 

It is an effective example of non-conscious or incidental learning.

This kind of ‘information immersion’ is used to good effect by advertisers.
Just think how easily children ‘learn’ a tune or pop-song.

Whilst ‘playing’ with the rods children will have made many important discoveries.

1. Rods of the same colour are also equal in length.

2. Rods of the same length are equal in colour.

3. Rods of different colours have different lengths.

4. It is possible to make equal lengths by putting rods end to end. 


5. Observe children and you may see them beginning to organise their work. The pattern below reveals an understanding of the commutative property of addition.

In this way children will begin to acquire their number bonds without even realising it.

e g 10 = 4 + 6 = 2 + 8 = 7 + 3 = 9 + 1

At a later stage, when they are asked what two numbers make ten, children will be able to visualize the pattern for ten.

 Fingers will definitely not be needed for counting!

At this stage we are making no conscious attempt to memorise facts and will not attempt to do so. These unconscious discoveries will have occurred while he/she was 'playing' with the rods. At the risk of becoming a bore I will repeat the mantra that play is an absolutely fundamental prerequisite for success. It is the source of rich experience that children will draw upon increasingly as new concepts are introduced.

I am currently in the process of creating a play based math program for children aged 5 to 11.
The program will consist of:an Instruction Manual, PowerPoint Presentations and over 60 Video Tutorials. Here is Child's Play Maths Video Tutorial Unit 2 - Incidental Learning