Research suggests that up to 50% of 7th graders do not have an understanding of their math facts. I believe this is, in part, due to the study of math as symbols rather than concrete meaningful and related objects in first and second grade.

Teaching number-quantity relationships is often done matching numbers to sounds, 1, 2, 3, 6, 9, 12 etc.  There is one step missing for many children, that is matching quantity and relationship i.e what numbers fit into other numbers. 

Here are three things children have taught me about how they learn math.

1. We build to learn:  In Play Math by exploring fact families in “arrays” (we call them squares and rectangles) we have 7-year-olds learning order of operations, distributive property, and fact families all through play!

2. We need to touch the blocks for better encoding: With base ten blocks, when children start to see with their own eyes or feel with their own hands/feet/rhythm or say with their own voices, that 6 fits into 12 and you can make 12 several different ways 3+9=12 9+3 =12; 6+6=12 11+1 = 12, the children love it. They make patterns and do grouping naturally. This enhances memory encoding.

If you do not have base ten blocks, legos work great! Just be sure to make them in sets like 2’s,3’s,4’s, 5’s,6’s,7’s,8’s,9’s, 10’s so the kiddos can see the fact families as arrays. To illustrate, take the blue (ones) legos and make two of them 2’s. Take the yellow (ones) legos and make three of them threes, etc.  The legos move as a color-inspired team.

The Play and Build aspect of Play Math, is remarkable to watch. It’s so organic. I think the kids are channeling Vygotsky.

3. We build brain connections with 1. Rhythm 2. Fine and Gross Motor Movement 3. Mentoring.

a. A central aspect of cortico-cerebellar math is rhythmic large motor movement. Before we ever mirror count or skip count, we bounce the balls creating rhythm.  The application of motor movement to math improves planning, encoding, retrieval, organization and memorization. It makes sense, as math is a learned skill for most children.

Beyond memorization, it is fun and fascinating to see the children develop their own meaning to activities such as building numbers with Base Ten Blocks.  The sentence I hear over and over from the students is “Oh, I see!”

b. We engage the cortico-cerebellar loop by alternating fine and gross motor movement with conceptual thinking.

c. We let the kids teach!

What do you need? Just base ten blocks and a few balls. If you want to get really advanced you can use polyspots.

We use the play equipment from SPARKPE.ORG. The balls, polyspots, and cones are loved by kids. Order yours HERE.

Play Math is not just for little ones we have sixth graders playing, mentoring and loving it.  Eager to learn more, here are a few links.

Thinking Mathematically: Integrating Arithmetic & Algebra in Elementary School by Thomas P. Carpenter, Megan Loef Franke and Linda Levi 

Misunderstood Minds: The documentary

Jean Blaydes Madigan

For today’s kinesthetic brain development activity simply bounce a big ball (like a dodgeball) with two hands back and forth with your child (ages 6-12) skip counting twos, try to do it in a medium rhythm, maintain the rhythm, when an error happens, smile, be silly and start counting back again, when you get to 0 or an error happens, go forward again. Count 2’s to 30, 50, 70 or 100 depending on how much fun you are all having.