Look around for shapes
Getting the right aids for teaching pre-mathematical activities is important. A useful sorting kit made from objects around the house can help a child identify shapes and colours. This serves as a prelude to learning numbers.
THE BEST teaching aids for pre-mathematical activities are objects around the house, which children are familiar with. What is important is that parents and teachers are focussed on what they are trying to achieve with a particular teaching aid or activity.
Probably the most useful teaching aid at the pre-mathematical stage is the sorting kit. It is easy to put one together at home.
Long and short: Collect some long sticks (twigs will do) and some short sticks. Match sticks and pencils.
Colours: Leaves and red flowers. Waste pieces of cloth collected from a tailor's shop. Cardboard, cut from thin boxes, such as soapboxes and coloured with crayons.
Big and small: Cigarette and matchboxes. Big and small tins. Big and small plastic boxes.
Weight: Textbooks and exercise books. A shoe and piece of paper.
However, you can also make a more durable sorting kit, using materials that are easily found in most houses. You will need some cardboard, thin enough to cut with scissors and some crayons or paint in three colours - red, blue and green. From these materials, cut and colour the kit as follows: Three big triangles, one in each colour - red, green and blue. Three small triangles, one in each colour. Three big circles, one in each colour. Three small circles, one in each colour. Three big rectangles, one in each colour. Three small rectangles, one in each colour. There are 18 pieces in all. It is important that the big pieces are noticeably bigger than the small pieces.
This kit can be used for sorting by colour, shape and size, but not weight. For example, ask the child to show all the red pieces, all the small pieces, all the box shapes (rectangles), all the round shapes, all the hut shapes (triangles) etc. At this point there is no advantage gained by using technical words such as rectangle or triangle. Children will gradually come to a stage when these names can be introduced; the best method is to use the common names first, then both the common name and the technical name for a while before becoming rigorous about naming. Children should also be allowed quite a lot of time to play with these kits without any questions asked. While this kit is being used, they should sort the more general objects (mentioned earlier in this article) such as twigs and leaves.
This particular kit has an extra spin-off: the child is learning a fair bit about shapes, almost by accident.
At this stage children are, in general, learning the attributes of people and things: some people are friendly and smile a lot, others are not so friendly. Soap smells pleasant but not onions. Tins can roll but boxes can only be pushed along. Therefore, any dialogue that draws attention to the attributes of objects is a good learning tool. Example: It has wheels, it takes father to work, what is it? It is sharp. Mother uses it to cut vegetables. What is it?
When a child has had a great deal of initial practice with the sorting kit he/ she will begin to be able to sort using two attributes together rather than one only. Example: Pick out all the small, red objects. The sorting kit is a concrete object. Semi concrete objects such as pictures in the newspapers or on television can also be used for sorting practice. Show me the red coloured objects on this page etc. After about two weeks of this kind of activity, the child will be ready to start numbers, 1, 2, 3, up to 5, at school or at home and will also be ready for some elementary work on shape and space.
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