Last week, I was reading new articles about education and children acquiring knowledge. One article shared about children involved in standardized education. Many children today, according to the article, develop a lack of interest in learning, beginning at a very young age.
The article shared that many children dislike math. To these children math is only a task focused on completing worksheets. A collection of numbers and symbols lacking connection to activities these children relate to. It appears a balance between learning math concepts and using math in the real world is missing.
In primary school, children are often assigned math worksheets starting in kindergarten. The worksheets feature images of animals, toys, and shapes. The children learn mathematical concepts by matching images with numbers and simple formulas.
Many of the children dislike the math worksheets they process for homework. The children often sit at the table, try to work on their assignments, and often express a desire to do something else. Some people may believe this is how all children approach homework, struggle is a part of learning, and persevering through an assignment creates character.
In my observation, the children are completing the worksheets because they have to and are struggling to make a connection to the work. The mathematical symbols and the images on the page do not create interest. For learning to come alive children need to connect to something visual and tangible.
In a group of playing children, no one avoids math while building with Lego, creating a pretend store, or counting levels of a block tower. Activities children choose contain many opportunities to gain understanding about educational concepts. The children enjoy doing this work and connect to the meaning contained within.
The child who may not understand or like math in school, thrives working on a project of their own choosing. A project that incorporates math into “the school of applied knowledge.” Young children use their fingers to build the concept of number. School age children explore math through their play and project work.
Play offers children the opportunity to make math real. Children use materials to explore math. Concepts like ordering, creating sets, size variation, and counting become tangible during play.
In project work, educational concepts come alive as children develop their creative pursuits. Mixing paint, making a necklace, drawing a character, and sewing a costume all employ mathematical concepts. Engaging activities invite children to experience number. Number then becomes a meaningful symbol. Worksheets tell children math is only important because of the answer instead of what number can do to enrich your experience with the world and your interests.
Education is a process. There are many ways to engage with number and mathematical concepts. One is through a top down approach and worksheets. This tells children that math is only about symbols and assignments.
Math can be a tool incorporated by children exploring their interests. Math is present in everything. Math is creative. To make a connection to math, children need to use it in the pursuit of something they find interesting.
As school age educators, we have an opportunity to help children. We can offer materials, space, and time so children can follow their interests and engage in math and other learning concepts through the creation of their work.
Empowering the "school of applied knowledge" is an important aspect of the work we do. As educators we have a role in the classroom. To invite learning concepts to become real through nurturing experiences for children.
Children practice plenty of structured learning during the school day. We need to offer children opportunities to apply learning to something real that has meaning to their lives.