Mathematics Survival Tips for the Elementary Classroom

  1. Use concrete objects (manipulatives) that children can handle for counting, adding, and subtracting.

  2. Collect a wide variety of objects such as pebbles, buttons, acorns, tiny pinecones, and bottle caps to use as manipulatives.

  3. Color-code your shelves red, yellow, and blue. Then, color-code math games and manipulatives with red (those that go on the red shelf), blue (those that go on the blue shelf), and yellow (those that go on the yellow shelf). This makes clean-up time go more smoothly.

  4. Keep all rulers in a container (coffee can) on the countertop.

  5. Cut numerals out of sandpaper so that children can trace them and learn how to form them (kinesthetic learning).

  6. Use play or donated telephones so children can learn to dial and to press their home phone number, an emergency number (911), and a relative's number. Explain the redial function.

  7. Ask children to name their favorite number and why. They're using language skills and enjoying math information.

  8. Demonstrate specifically how to use measuring tape, and how to read it before giving it to children to use. Demonstrate how to measure a child from shoulder to wrist, around the waist, around the head, from knee to ankle. Now, have them work in pairs to do the same thing for a hands-on measurement experience.

  9. When in doubt, make a graph. Graphs are an instant picture of information.

  10. Children gain experience with counting and one-to-one correspondence when they count out straws and napkins for snack time.

  11. Look everywhere in the classroom for patterns – stripes on the flag, tiles on the floor, windowpanes, overhead lights, radiator, register covers, and so on.

  12. Check clothing for patterns – stripes, polka dots, circles, squares, triangles. Is it a repeat pattern – AB, AB or ABC, ABC?

  13. Sort and categorize repeatedly. (Use different clothespins, potatoes, buttons, seashells, or pencils) Have children explain how they categorized – size, color, shape, function.

  14. Place two hula hoops on the floor so that they intersect and make a Venn Diagram. Now sort and categorize items according to properties and see how many have both. For example, sort large and small buttons into two piles. Then, to demonstrate the function of the Venn Diagram, hunt for all of the buttons that have four holes and put them in the middle section. Now we have a section for large, a section for small, and a mixed section for all large and small buttons that have four holes.

  15. Sort teddy bears by large, medium, and small. Then put them all together again and sort by color. This helps get across the concept of sorting and categorizing.

  16. To reduce noise when working with manipulatives, use a piece of felt on the work surface.

  17. When using an upright felt board, make sure it slants (like an easel); otherwise, the pieces will be apt to fall off.

  18. Use signs on the outside of containers so children will know what and how many go inside of them.

  19. Remember, it's okay to count on your fingers.

  20. Practice, practice, practice the things you want children to learn.

  21. To be especially effective, accompany your repetitions with an action of some sort, such as finger plays (“This Little Piggy Went to Market...”).

  22. Reinforce concepts with verbal repetition and body action. The Hokey Pokey helps children distinguish right and left, for instance.

  23. Help children learn numbers quickly by making numbers personal for them: – “Our cat had four kittens,” “I have two sisters,” “Daddy comes home at five o'clock,” “Six people sit at our table.”

  24. Ask everybody to sit still for one whole minute – time it! Children will learn how long a minute is. This also has a quieting effect on the group.

Excerpted from Kindergarten Teacher's Survival Guide.

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