Monday, August 5, 2013

Math Shelves

We're gearing up for another year of homeschool here at Simple Little Home. This year is going to be a bit different for us though, with the addition of a new baby in October and possibly a move on the horizon. Our strategy therefore is going to be simple, simple, simple. Seems appropriate, right?

Each day this week I'm going to share one aspect of our school plan for the year, and on Friday I'll share the homeschool room make over. OK, it's not a total makeover, but it's the re-arranged, repurposed, oh-my-I-have-a-first-grader-and-a-preschooler-and-a-wanna-be-preschooler to manage this year approach to our space.

Today I'm going to share our math shelves, because everybody around here seems to be math crazy, so I put them up first. If you're familiar with the Montessori philosophy, you'll know that shelves are to be organized by subject, with more difficult work descending from basic work. This is done so that the environment teaches children the relationship between materials more than the teacher, or directress, does. It gives kids more autonomy in their approach to learning and encourages deduction. I love that philosophy, and I embrace it whole-heartedly when I set up my Godly Play classrooms at our church, but in our small homeschool room, now being used by three little people and myself, the ideal Montessori set up was just not going to be possible. Instead, I've tried to put "like" items on each shelf with the easiest at the bottom (closest to eye level for the littlest ones) and the more complex concepts on the top. Since I don't have space to put out all materials at the same time, I plan to rotate the materials depending upon what we're exploring together.

For example, if one child is working on fractions (one is), I'll be sure there is a shelf in our math section dedicated to fraction work. If another child is working on shape recognition (another is), there will be another shelf dedicated to shape work. Since we don't move through such large concepts very quickly (perhaps once per month), the pressure to change out shelves all the time will be lessened for me. That's good news because I'm going to have a newborn to keep me plenty busy!

Here's the breakdown of what I have on display right now, to start our year:

Our math shelves, viewed straight on:
 The top shelf currently contains a book on fractions (building literacy with math skills is a great practice if you can sneak it in so I use books as often as I can), these fraction printables from Montessori Print Shop, a clock (similar to this one), and the binomial cube. Each item represents something our oldest child is currently exploring (either in specific relation to our official math work together, or on his own due to interest). We're continuing to use Singapore Math this year, not as a sole math curriculum, but more as a basis for inquiry. Our oldest has really enjoyed the workbooks so far, and at least as far as math work goes, seems to enjoy some bookwork as a tangible measure of progress. (So like his task-oriented Mama, that one. Sigh.)

We also use a homemade felt board (I stapled felt over a very old, well used bulletin board I had on hand) as part of our fraction exploration. I made these felt fraction circles last year as part of a Five in a Row unit and we've used them several times since then. I hang the felt board on the wall so it stays out of the way, but we take it down when it's in use, of course. It gets used for a variety of lessons, not just math.

The second shelf currently contains our hundred board with numbers and bead chains and bead stairs, our wooden number cards, two books which deal with addition and subtraction (this one and this one), plus a metal tray with number magnets and math symbols for us to "act out" each math problem we find in the books. (Our number magnets and symbols are similar to this set, and the tray is a stove burner cover that I purchased for about two dollars and use all the time as a salt tray, as well.)

Perhaps a bit less obvious in theme, this shelf is for concepts my oldest has pretty well mastered (numerals 1-100, ones, tens, hundreds place, simple math equations, etc.) but still enjoys using and exploring. I see it get use right now when my second child is in her "reach" zone and is exploring concepts which are brand new to her, and my oldest often steps in to work with her. It provides an endearing sibling moment of course, but also a great learning opportunity for both children.

 The third math shelf currently holds several geoboards (mine are from tag sales and hand-me-downs, but these are similar) with a stash of rubber bands, our constructive triangle set, and our geometric solids set, with a geometric solid sorting work from Montessori Print Shop on the tray as well. My second child is working on identifying and manipulating shapes beyond the simple circle, square, triangle stuff, and this shelf is designed for her.

 The bottom shelf is focused on identifying written symbol to quantity correspondence. It includes an abacus like this one, and a 1-10 numbers book from the Bob Books series with an additional set of bead stairs. Next it displays a leftover work from an old preschool curriculum I used when I taught, which asks students to identify the number symbol, then match the fish with the correct number of dots to it. In front of that is a similar (free!) work from Montessori Print Shop, which asks the child to sort cards based on quantity, symbol and word. Last on that shelf is a book by a local author called Counting Our Way to Maine, which I've displayed with our I Know My Numbers make-your-own books from Handwriting Without Tears. The HWT books encourage children to count, color and practice writing numbers, while the Counting Our Way to Main book encourages parent and child to practice reading the numbers and practicing correspondence together. This shelf is for my second child primarily, but as tends to happen in multi-aged learning situations, her younger sister is very active in using this shelf as her "reach" shelf. Her older sister is only too happy to explain things and help her along, as well.

In our daily work bins (more coming on that this week) each child has a workbook section to complete, either from their respective level of Singapore Math, or some other math work I've pulled from the web or another book. I encourage the children to complete some math work each day, and they are welcome to choose if that is in the form of workbook/worksheet time, or time spent using their shelves. I trust that the kids are making choices based on their interest and need at the time, and try very, very (very!) hard not to direct them too much. (That's just the traditionally trained teacher in me rearing it's ugly head, and has very little to do with how/what my kiddos actually need to learn.)

I'm not sharing any "special" math projects in this particular post, but I hope you'll stay tuned to discover some other fun and light-hearted ways we encourage our children to use math in their lives.

What about you? What are you doing with your kids to develop and encourage numeracy these days? Tell me about it or leave a link in the comments- I'd love to know what you're up to!


  1. I like their environment very much. Because it is most suitable for studying.

    1. Thanks! I'm glad to hear that others in the world find a structured environment soothing and beneficial for study!

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