Developing Math Skills

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Since play is integral to a child’s world, it becomes the gateway to engaging in mathematical inquiry. Sarama and Clements suggest that mathematical experiences can be narrowed down into two forms, play that involves mathematics and playing with mathematics itself (2009, p. 327). Further, it is the adult present during the play who is able to recognize how the children are representing their mathematics knowl- edge and then build on their understanding through prompting and questioning. Sarama and Clements stress that “the importance of well-planned, free-choice play, appropriate to the ages of the children, should not be underestimated. Such play … if mathematized contributes to mathematics learning” (2009, p. 329).
Educators also provide experiences in playing with mathematics itself by using a repertoire of strategies, including open and parallel tasks that provide differentiation to meet the needs of all students and ensure full participation. Moreover, students do not have to see mathematics as compartmentalized, but instead as it mirrors their life experiences through other subject areas like science and the arts. As such, “high quality instruction in mathematics and high quality free play need not compete for time in the classroom. Engaging in both makes each richer and children benefit in every way” (Sarama & Clements, 2009, p. 331). This equity of opportunity is essential so all students can fully develop their mathematical abilities.
A carefully planned mathematics environment enables the use of manipulatives whether commercial products or found objects, sometimes brought in by the students themselves. Ideally, manipulatives serve as learning tools to help students build their understanding and explain their thinking to others. Research has shown, however, that “manipulatives themselves do not magically carry mathematical understanding. Rather, they…...

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