Messy Maths by Juliet Robertson
A Playful, Outdoor Approach for Early Years – Crown House Publishing
I have always been a big fan of Juliet Robertson. Her Creative Star Learning website is a fountain of ideas for teaching outside. This book was as good as I hoped. It is a vital resource for teachers to get maths outside of the classroom. Real Maths is Real Messy.
Messy Maths by Juliet Robertson is built on a career of academic experience of teaching outside. It brings the recently new concept of forest schools and outdoor nurseries very much into the mainstream conversation. This is not an alternative choice. Robertson puts the outdoor very much at the front of maths learning for early years.
“We can build confidence in maths concepts before children even perceive their play as mathematics” JR
An Academic Backdrop
Introduction contains lots on the academic backdrop of maths experience. Quotes an evidence of connection between preschool children’s early narrative experiences and later mathematical abilities. Like Richard Louv who stated in Last Child in the Woods that so many science concepts are embedded in children during their playing in nature. What has arisen recently are college age students who have little experience of the basic concepts because of a lack of play in nature at a younger age.
In her book, Robertson is encouraging an awareness of maths in our children’s everyday lives and by gently highlighting and strengthening these concepts through ideas laid out in the book, we will lay a foundation for flourishing in maths abilities later in life.
Where’s the Maths in that?
The first chapter begins at the beginning: Firstly, it requires the teacher to watch. “Observe through a maths lens” inviting you to rethink traditional games or play from a maths viewpoint . It sort of limbers up your imagination for the following chapters.
Robertson details how to turn buckets of soil into maths discovery. She uses examples of kids general play and invites you to get involved at the children’s lead by asking a few questions to steer slightly and bring about a mathematical concept.
She doesn’t prescribe what to do with the kids. She suggests working with what they are doing and adapt slightly. Gives examples of how jumping in puddles can become about measurement and how endlessly riding bikes around can become about weight and mass.
Robertson states that her professional understanding of how to teach maths has changed completely since working with natural materials outside (natural and man made outside environments- this isn’t a nature book – it is a maths book). In the past she might have still pinned up number signs or shapes to continue in the belief of doing it ‘properly’. Its a fair statement. We have become so used to thinking that maths is only studied if we are dealing with numbers as quantities or recognisable maths symbols.
Rooted in Play
The chapters that comprise the bulk of the book are headed with titles that any primary teacher will recognise yet the content itself is rooted in play.
- Number formation
- Mathematical mark making
- Problem solving
- Number concepts
- Symmetry and shape
- Position and data
All these maths concepts are covered here. In detail. Outside.
Messy Maths is seeing maths and numbers in everyday life. Robertson knows the curriculum and knows what needs to be covered. I was quote shocked to see talk of addition, division and fractions (This is an early years book!) The concepts covered are quite advanced for early years. But you do have to read it all to understand her approach is about introducing these concepts and embedding into play. They are titled into these groups for the academic teachers out there to understand the value of this approach.
The Head, The Hands and The Heart
I have always been a big believer in the Steiner Waldorf approach of teaching the whole child and was thrilled to read in the intro:
“Being outside enables connections to be made between the hands, heart and head, laying foundations for more complex work as the children grow….”
The Waldorf philosophy is of nurturing the child as a whole; the head, the hands and the heart. Also about respecting the growth of the child. Concepts are understood in different ways at different stages of childhood.
Messy Maths follows these similar Waldorf ideas in a more academic and intellectualised way. Yet the same belief is at its core, to experience concepts in the body at an early age.
It is all written out in the book step by step. Just keep it all playful. This is undoubtedly a valuable resource for teachers, I would say, teachers of primary ages not just preschool. Messy Maths is what it says it is ‘Messy’, and I know plenty of 9 year olds who would welcome that too.
Messy Maths by Juliet Robertson. Crown House Publishing.