Learning math through the arts… Moby Snoodles approves! So I was happy to review two books from Marcia Daft’s Moving Through Math project. (The other is Clap, Drum, and Shake It!) They are read-aloud books for kids under five and their grown-ups. Both books are illustrated in a distinctive, memorable manner that reminded me of early Japanese watercolors. Of math education aspects, I found notes to parents to be most distinctive and memorable. After a strong book, you can graduate from “What?” (what entities and actions were in the book) – to “So what?” (your new understanding of the world).
What? A traditional counting book, for numbers from one to ten. Children count by making whole-body movements, such as three giant puddle jumps, seven high reaches to the clouds, or eight jiggles down as you wiggle to the ground.
So what? Fine motor skills use some of the same parts of the brain as mathematics. That’s why activities that require fine motor skills, such as playing musical instruments, crocheting and origami, develop “the math brain.” But you don’t want to overwhelm and overload this math brain. Challenging fine motor skills, on top of challenging new math ideas – that can be too much for one activity! That’s why using gross motor movements helps to introduce new math ideas. Whenever I work with kids, I design whole-body methods for introducing each topic, from equations to infinity. This way, the math brain can devote itself to math, without having to coordinate the fine motor movements too.
Children in the book look and dress like they come from all different continents, without any cliches. Kudos to the artists on this tasteful presentation!
One-to-one correspondence is not challenging as an idea: babies are born understanding it. However, the reliable implementation is hard for young kids. Gross motor movements will definitely help to count more reliably.
The descriptions of movements are artistic. There are evocative metaphors, such as “count one leafy spin,” and emotions, such as “two happy hops,” and details that go with the story, such as “nine sharp tugs to create a bouquet” when the kid picks wildflowers. Kids love that rich stuff – and relate to math through it!
Building on it
Use more intrinsic quantities to support the number sense. One example in the book is to hop two times to take off both shoes. You could also sprint to each corner of a room (four sprints) or reach to the sky with each finger on your hand (five stretches).
Connect counting to pattern units. For example, count to nine again and again as you create many bouquets for all your friends.