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Turning education into a game for the family

AT the British International School of Shanghai our youngest students follow the Early Years Foundation Stage Program, as set out in the latest review of the British National Curriculum.

It has a strong emphasis on learning through all forms of interaction and, for the very youngest, this means targeted play across six areas of learning with 13 different assessment scales.

Targeted play looks at every element within the school environment and asks the question "What do I need to do to make this a fun learning tool?" With careful thought and some creativity, every space can have some learning incorporated into it and much of this will happen without your child even being aware of it.

You might think, "Great for my children when they are young, but what does that mean for me when they are older?" As a high school specialist, this was my first reaction when I agreed to look at the little ones and how they learned? But don't we all learn best when we are having fun? With a little creativity in the home environment, can we actually help to develop our children and hone their mental skills without actually having to sit down and work with them in a parody of the old-fashioned high school classroom?

You can use the ideas that have been developed for the very youngest in our school to help your children to be the best that they can be. Here are a few ideas you can use in everyday life to stimulate the brain to develop mathematical skills.

Playing number-based board games will improve mental mathematics skills as well as giving you the all important "Quality Time" with your children. Any game that uses two dice or money forces the use of mathematics in order to play the game. Children will sit and plot dice combinations, pitfalls and costs to prepare a winning strategy. You can further enhance the mental gymnastics by asking them what will be needed to land on particular squares, allowing your child to be the bank and always needing change in odd note combinations.

Pocket money is a great way to improve number skills. Carefully balanced, it will encourage personal saving, and the constant recalculation when they will be able to afford the latest toy or game will improve money awareness. Studies show it also saves parents money in the long term.

Map reading is a really good way to improve spatial awareness. Keep a map in the car and encourage children to keep an eye on where they are. Ask them to plan a route to your location, add complications for road works and multiple stops. It helps to keep them busy and, if you trust them enough to actually navigate, improves communication skills while forcing the part of the brain that works with spaces to translate the 2D map to 3D reality.

Right from teaching your child to use a watch, you can work with time. From switching between analogue and digital, 12 and 24 hour formats, to estimation of event timings and even looking at shadow lengths to calculate the time of day. You can ask them to create timelines, or calculate how many months, weeks, days, hours and seconds to your next holiday or a birthday. Improved time awareness helps with the understanding of number, geometry, bases and unit conversion.

Having things around in the toy box that involve numbers will encourage your child to make use of them. Tape measures, sized containers, purses with coins in them will give the props for informal play, promoting creativity, while involving number work.

Every one of the ideas mentioned is in some form or another, part of the British National Curriculum which at its heart prepares your children to be lifelong learners. You can be a vital part of your child's learning team by just taking the time to look at a few ways to stimulate learning through play around the home. So get mathematical!


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