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Early Math Nostalgia

A week or so Fiona started Singapore Primary Math Grade 5 work and I realized that our “early math” days are gone forever in this family. These days the kids are busy with obtuse angles, polynomials and  repeating decimals. Gone are the days of “different ways to make 7” and “constructing and deconstructing tens.” Today I pulled together our K-3 math materials in preparation for adding them to the library of local home-learning resources that is being amassed this year courtesy of the local public school. It was a bittersweet moment for me. I have loved watching my kids’ early mathematical thinking grow through great leaps and fallow plateaus as they discover, integrate and apply all those basic concepts. But at the same time I am proud and amazed at how far they’ve all come.

In the hand-me-down pile I’ve amassed:

Cuisenaire rods. My favourite manipulative ever. My kids weren’t big on actually using manipulatives, especially Erin and Noah, but having familiarity with the cuisenaires, even if they didn’t actually shuffle them around on the table to solve problems, gave them a visual-spatial reference for thinking about numbers and relationships.

A base-ten set to match the cuisenaire rods. We bought a few extra 10-rods, a dozen hundred flats and a single thousand cube. We didn’t use these much, but they were invaluable at times for giving the kids a visual model of place value relationships. We augmented these last spring when introducing Fiona to decimals.

Miquon Math. The first “curriculum” I introduced the kids to. They all ended up in Singapore Primary Math by Grade 3, but I think the early time spent with Miquon was the best possible curricular foundation for them. The First Grade Diary, while I never followed anything in there as outlined, gave me a great sense of what “discovery-oriented learning” meant in the context of a cuisenaire-rod math lab. The Lab Annotations book was essential. The heart of the program is in the activities more than the actual workbooks, but we also used the workbooks.

Pattern blocks. A lovely large wooden set. For free play with shapes, patterns, symmetry, angles, pictures. Two unbreakable locker mirrors, hinged together with duct tape, allowed for nifty mandala-like reflections.

The Cuisenaire Discovery Book and cards. I made this years ago for Sophie. Fiona loved it too as a pre-Miquon playful approach to getting familiar with the cuisenaire rods and many of the concepts and relationships they illustrate. You can print and download your own via the links in this post.

A Touch ‘n Tell Me depression board for multiplication facts. We just lucked into this as a freebie on an eBay purchase of used kids’ clothes I made once, but it turned out to be a wonderful low-tech tool for my older kids. You push down the button of the multiplication fact you’re interested in and through the translucent plastic of the depressed button you can see (or almost see, anyway … perhaps opacity of the buttons is increasing as this unit ages into its fourth decade of use) the answer. My older kids did not memorize their facts naturally in concert with their precocious conceptual mastery, so there was a period of time when it was handy to have this as a reference tool. As they gradually learned the facts, we put little Avery dot stickers on the buttons they no longer needed to use. It was fun to watch the dots gradually take over the board as they mastered more and more.

And so there it is. Sniff, sniff. I’ll never again witness a kid delightedly notice that 9×6 and 6×9 are the same thing! Or that 7+9 is the same as the in-between number doubled! Sure, I am still witness to nifty epiphanies, like discovering that the repeating digits in the decimal equivalent of 11ths correspond to the numbers from the nine timestable. But it’s not quite the same. It’s more abstract, and less likely to be accompanied by shrieks and giggles. Ah, passages…



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4 responses to “Early Math Nostalgia”

  1. Kimberly Avatar

    Hmm Miranda – just my opinion – but I would keep those pattern blocks. I still enjoy playing with them.


  2. Newt Avatar

    Thanks for the reminder! I also have four kids, but my oldest is about the age of your youngest, so these ideas are a good reminder of things that I should be pulling out with my #3. 🙂 I didn't really get into Cuisenaire rods in time for my first two to benefit from them, but I'm printing out your booklet for #3! Maybe the older two can play some games with him.


  3. Anonymous Avatar

    I sure wish I understood math better so I could have been better at doing these kind of activities with my kids.

  4. Beccy Avatar

    My daughter is already asking me to keep things for her children, and she is not yet 5! All those things make me drool, as DD needs something for Maths, I think. Not sure what. School isn't teaching her anything she recognises as Maths yet. Last Maths immersion she was adding numbers up to about 15, and subtracting below 10, and she “gets” both multiplication and division, though doesn't have enough Maths facts for the latter as yet.