By Hema Walker
“Once upon a time…” may be an uncommon way to begin a mathematics lesson, yet in Mount Madonna School’s kindergarten where I teach, that is just how I present our “Golden Number Book” lessons. During the kindergarten year, each student will create their own counting journal, called a “Golden Number Book.” Every week the children add a new page to their book.
Let me back up just a little, though, and share what happens before students write or draw in their books. Each child works one-on-one with a teacher to practice the formation of the specific number we are learning that week: they trace a sandpaper version of the number; and then write it with their finger in a sand tray. Afterwards they use a pencil to complete a paper ‘number strip.’
Young children learn best when they are active and moving. The physical aspects of our Golden Number lesson support this need and make the activity “playful.” Children this age are very kinesthetic learners, and when they enjoy what they are doing, they remain positively engaged. The more practice they have in forming the number, the stronger their ‘motor memory’ of it becomes. For this reason MMS kindergartners practice their numbers in several tactile ways.
Once students complete their individual practice, we gather together in a group and I present the ‘number of the week’ in a simple story, such as “One Magic Cooking Pot,” “Two Frog Princes,” or “Three Bears.” This helps bring the number to life in the child’s imagination. As the story is told, the children sit fully engaged, listening for a mention of the number and raising their hand in recognition.
“I like hearing it when the teacher tells the story,” comments Anya, a kindergartner. “It’s very fun hearing new stories.”
In my years of experience working with children (as a parent and a teacher), I have come to understand that young children learn more easily in the context of “play.” They naturally spend their time engaged in fantasy play helping them to make sense of their world and process their experiences. Teaching academic concepts in a story form appeals to kindergartners; and the stories are also great opportunities to support positive values such as choosing the right action, forgiveness, courage, positive self-concept and conflict resolution.
In our lesson, once the story is finished, the children stand up and practice clapping their hands, stomping their feet, nodding their heads and shaking their friend’s hand the same number of times as the number they are learning. This brings a concrete experience of the number into their body. They then raise a ‘magic pencil’ above their heads and follow my lead, writing the number in the air with their finger and then tracing it on their neighbor’s back.
The kindergartners look forward to this weekly lesson. It’s fun and the importance of that cannot be overstated! When children develop a positive attitude about school from the very beginning they have that positive feeling to draw on all the way through their school career.
By the time the children sit down and begin to work in their Golden Number books, they are ready to demonstrate their mastery of the number. When they open their book, the children like to admire their work on the previous weeks’ numbers, before starting to create their new number page. They copy the number of the week from the chalkboard as well as its spelling on to two “ribbons of color” they create using the wide side of their beeswax block crayons.
On these colorful ‘ribbons’, the children use a pencil to practice writing the number they are learning numerous times, as they become more familiar and comfortable with forming it correctly.
“My favorite part about Golden Number Books is when you get to write the number and spell the word,” says kindergartner Ethan, “because I like how they look.”
Next a picture from the number story is drawn on the classroom chalkboard depicting the appropriate number of objects. The children are then instructed to draw a picture from the story in their Golden Number book. Some students choose to copy the picture from the chalkboard, while others draw their own design inspired by the story; the only requirement being that the appropriate number of objects are shown. The lesson ends with the child dictating a story about their picture to the teacher who writes it in their book.
“I like writing the story, because you get to write about exciting adventures,” explains Adrian, one of the students in the class.
The holistic nature of this lesson appeals to the kindergarten children on many levels. Isabel likes the part of the lesson when her friend, Paris, writes the number of the week on her back. Sophie and Sebastian’s favorite part of the lesson is drawing the pictures. The end result is a precious rendition of their very own counting book, a solid understanding of the basic numbers, a creative integration of art, literature and mathematics in a single lesson, and delight in the learning process.
Hema Walker teaches preschool and kindergarten at Mount Madonna School. She holds a BA in Psychology from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an AS in Early Childhood Education from Cabrillo College.
Nestled among the redwoods on 355 mountaintop acres, Mount Madonna is a safe and nurturing college-preparatory school that supports students in becoming caring, self-aware and articulate critical thinkers, who are prepared to meet challenges with perseverance, creativity and integrity. The CAIS and WASC accredited program emphasizes academic excellence, creative self-expression and positive character development. Located on Summit Road between Gilroy and Watsonville.