Like a lot of children out there, my own are very visual learners. I have found that by using stories and art as teaching tools, the material seems to sink in a lot quicker and my kids can retain information that otherwise would be forgotten. I don’t remember math ever being fun in school, nor do I remember my teachers using alternative methods to explain concepts. Math was always taught with a big textbook opened to page who cares, followed by a *joy* math worksheet. I’m sure there are teachers out there that do try to present the material in fun ways, but unfortunately I was not blessed with one of these teachers lol.
So for my own children, teaching math has been a journey for all of us. I’m not saying that I’ve never used worksheets to get the job done, but over the years I have had to seek out different ways to help my girls grasp this subject. I particularly like Waldorf style of teaching, and I have learned many new and exciting ways to teach through this creative point of view.
One of my favorite lessons has been teaching place value. There is a million and one ways to teach this, but what worked for us was by using castles for visual learning. I have consistently revisited place value castles, for reviewing purposes and also to teach carrying and borrowing. Here is a step by step guide to teaching your elementary student about place value in a fun way:
1) On a chalkboard, draw your castles.
To distinguish the castles, I drew them with one, two, three, and four towers. Write on or above the castle 1,10,100, or 1000. For small children, you may want to start with the 1 and 10’s place, then on another day work in 100 and 1000. I suggest using a chalkboard, because according to Waldorf, chalk is a more natural element. You can do things with chalk, such as shading, that you cannot do on dry erase boards. No matter what you draw your castles on, just remember to make it fun.
2) Make up a story.
What better way to capture the attention of the child than by telling them a story? It doesn’t have to be complicated, just simple and sweet. For example, you can begin by telling them something like this: “Once upon a time there was a king, and his name was King Place Value. King Place Value owned many many acres of beautiful land. It had an open field with lovely green grass, grazing animals, and colorful flowers. On this field sat 4 castles, where King Place Value kept his finest and bravest knights.” At this point, show the children the castles and explain that a different number of knights where allowed in each one.
3) Introduce a number.
You can continue along with your story as an introduction to the first number. “Surrounding the 4 castles was a huge forest, and in this forest lived a family of hungry dragons.” Continue your story, explaining that the dragons came to attack the castles (or they were invited for tea and desserts, whichever). Write a number on the board, such as the number 8,943 (shown in the pic above) and then show the children that it took this many knights to defeat the dragons (or serve them cake). Explain that there was 3 knights in the 1’s castle, 40 knights in the 10’s castle, 900 knights in the hundreds castle, and 8,000 knights in the thousands castle.
After you show this to the child once or twice, continue writing numbers on the board and have them tell you how many knights are in each castle. You can also have them make up their own number and write it on the board. This lesson can be paired with simple addition by stacking the numbers, like 3 + 40 + 900 + 8,000 = 8,943. Its like a puzzle, we are breaking the number down but look what happens when we add them back together- it equals what we started with.
5) For further exploration, use manipulatives.
To help children understand just how many knights there are in these castles, bring in an object for counting and sorting. You could use beans, buttons, pasta, acorns, rocks etc. Pull out cups and have your child count out 1, 10, 100, or even 1000 if you have the time and patience lol. Break down 100 and show them that ten 10’s equal 100. This visual may help for better understanding. You can even work this part of the lesson into your story, by sending the knights on a mission to bring back gold or food for the Kingdom. Write another number on the board and have them sort out the object to equal that number (so if the number is 23, create two piles of 10, and one pile of 3).
Don’t underestimate the power of a good story with the help of objects!
Visual and hands on activities such as this one is the perfect way to introduce math in a positive and fun way. Furthermore, you can take this lesson and have the children draw and color their own castles (which they will love doing). Remember that there is a million different directions you can take this basic idea, so use the knowledge you have about your child and his/her interests, and go for it!
They don’t like knights? Use a princess, or make place value houses, or boats, or whatever else you can think of!
The sky is the limit, so follow your heart and use your creativity!
Is your child a visual learner? What have you done to help them grasp school lessons? Share your thoughts in the comments below!