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Just for a moment, throw out all of your memories of math lessons from your school days. Set aside the images and promotional explanations from that math curriculum you were recently researching online. And let’s start from scratch.
If we were to design math lessons that would be an ideal fit for a young learner, what would they look like?
Well, let’s think about a young learner. What is a typical six-year-old like?
Most early elementary children I know
- like to move,
- have wobbly handwriting,
- are emerging readers,
- are concrete thinkers,
- have a great imagination.
Now let’s build out from there. What would an ideal math lesson involve if it were designed for a young learner?
The ideal math lessons would
- not make the child sit for long periods of time,
- require little handwriting,
- require little reading,
- have the child work with things that could be seen and handled,
- involve his imagination.
I don’t know many math curricula out there that fulfill all of those requirements. In fact, only one comes to mind: a Charlotte Mason approach to math. Lessons from Charlotte’s approach brilliantly take into consideration the young learner.
Over the next few weeks we will take a look at different aspects of Charlotte Mason’s beginning math lessons and discuss how they seem to be tailor made for an early elementary child. Today let’s discuss short lessons and simple sums.
First, the lessons are short, 20 minutes maximum for first grade. And of those 20 minutes, 15 are dedicated to the newest concept and 5 are used for review.
Charlotte expected the young learner to give full and focused attention. When that happens you can get a lot done in a short amount of time.
Those 15 minutes are packed full and require a lot of mental effort, but the lesson does not drag on interminably nor overtax the child’s ability to sit still.
A large part of the 15 minutes are dedicated to something Charlotte called “Simple Sums.” Those are little math scenarios that require the learner to practice using what he has learned.
You might compare them to “word problems,” but two big differences come to mind.
These math scenarios are all done orally, so the young learner will not have to shoulder the burden of several skill sets all being required at once. If he were reading word problems, he would have to concentrate on decoding the words, reading comprehension, and math concepts all at the same time. That’s a heavy load for an emerging reader.
So Charlotte’s approach requires little reading in math lessons for young learners. They practice reading during reading lessons and can give the full attention of their minds to math concepts during math lessons.
The other big difference is that you are encouraged to customize the simple sums to involve your child’s imagination. You can use the names of siblings or cousins, friends or even pets.
And as the child gains confidence, he can come up with his own little math scenarios too. He begins to think mathematically.
You can read more about Charlotte’s approach to mathematics—from early learning all the way through high school—in Richele Baburina’s Charlotte Mason math handbook, Mathematics: An Instrument for Living Teaching. The companion DVD set, Charlotte Mason’s Living Math: A Guided Journey, demonstrates these wonderful methods for elementary arithmetic lessons.
In the next couple of posts we’ll talk about Charlotte’s use of everyday objects and the amount of handwriting that was expected in her math lessons for young learners.