“Saw a girl like I’ve never seen before / Want to make her mathematically safe...”
Mathematically Safe, Half Man Half Biscuit
It's an extraordinary gift that we seem to have created for children within our education systems. We seem to take something perfectly natural and in good working order and then take considerable time and effort to erode it as quickly as we can through a combination of boredom, worksheet and emotional disconnection.
I'm talking of course about mathematics. Young children are incredibly adept at being maths-y. They have an ability to see number, to know concepts such as more and less, to be able to see maths in the world around them in ways that as adults we have long forgotten.
Yet by the time children leave our school system the vast majority will have a crushing sense that mathematics isn't for them or that it's something to be endured like high volume country music playing loudly, the same song over and over and over again. It's the message that we give children - that mathematics is somehow a strange language, something inaccessible and remote.
And yet when they were young children spoke the language of mathematics in abundance. Of course these very same children, who are made maths-muddled are the ones who become parents and pass the message on to their own children - "I'm no good at maths..."
Well here's some news. You are good maths. It's just that the adult world told you that you weren't. It created the 'maths-shame', it grouped children by 'ability', it sought to control mathematics, showing children a one-way street instead of the wide open landscape that mathematics truly is and can be. Of course, this all comes back to the notion of testing and measuring children, of sorting them into red group, blue group, green group, of maths homework about things of zero interest to children, of little value or purpose.
The lack of purpose lies at the heart of children's maths misery. Maths becomes the adults’ purpose. It becomes something that children perform for the adult. It gets taken away from the richness of the world around and replaced with maths schemes - week five, lesson three - the control of the table and the sheet, each moment children being removed from their own sense of self and the potential of learning to be an adventure. The adult world gives maths homework to children to take home to parents, almost taunting parents from behind the school gates reminding them of their failings from the past, dredging up the ghosts.
Does maths have to be like this? I'm convinced the answer is a resounding no. Education should add to children's confidence not remove it. It should build skills not decimate them. A positive mathematics adventure begins in Early Years. It begins with play, with exploration, with making sense, with collaboration, with the index of possibilities that open ended continuous provision should offer to children. Block play, the Great Outdoors, small world, creativity, drawing, being, pretending, games indeed everything that children do and want to do is the perfect vehicle to be mathematical in an infinite number of ways. It's time for the ghosts of the past to be exorcised. It's time for maths to come alive through the beauty of play. It's time to cut the strings to the photocopier. open up the doors, and go and explore the wide wide world of children's innate maths-ness. The adults of the future will thank us...
Can I Go Play Now..? is committed to widening the understanding of the magic of children's play as an educational tool. Child-centred, play-based learning is where it's truly at....