Learning maths: can it be enjoyable and fun?

When I was little (and also as a grown-up) I hated maths. Maths were so... abstract and cold to me. I studied maths to a pretty high level at the Economics School but I have never enjoyed it. So making maths enjoyable and fun for my daughter sounded like a big challenge to me.

But maths can be fun, I have learned with my little one. And you can learn maths without even knowing it.  

It seemed to me that my daughter had no interests in maths and anyway I had no intention to teach it to her  at such an young age (she is only 3 years old). But one day I heard her counting to ten while playing and I could not believe my ears. Also she started asking me questions like "What shape has this object? Is this a circle?" And thanks to her musical book with CD she started to recognize the numbers of the tracks on the CD and associate it to the composers in the book.

 
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So I added some "gentle" math objects on her shelves.

 
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We have started with this beautiful Grimm's Fraction Circle puzzle when she was about 2 years old. Matriochkas (Russian dolls) were also a hit around that age. Russian dools are great because children can practice their fine motor skills and at the same time they learn about ranking objects from the smallest to the biggest one and the relationship between different sizes. The Grimm's Fraction Circle puzzle and the Matriochkas come back regularly on the shelf when we rotate toys since one year now. And they are always so loved

 
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We have also recently added a Montessori Tower (like the Pink Tower except that it's not pink) close to her shelf.

 
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The boar is two sided: on one side there is a counting game with natural wooden poles and on the other side the child can trace numbers with the help of a wooden pen.

 
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We also enjoy reading some lovely books about numbers and geometry

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  • "Dix petites graines" by Ruth Brown is a lovely story of 10 seeds and, without even knowing, you count backwards from 10 to 1. This books is also available in english ("Ten seeds")
  • "Le livre a compter de Balthazar" by Marie-Hélène Place is a beautiful Montessori book from the Balthazar's books collection. So we already know and love Balthazar and Pépin as I started reading books from this collection to my daughter when she was a baby. In this book, Balthazar and Pépin follow a rabbit and make many encounters that they count: four chicken, five snails.. Unfortunately this book has not been translate into English
  • "Les formes géométriques à toucher de Balthazar" by Marie-Hélène Place also a favorite. In this Montessori book the shapes are inspired by nature. Also not translated
  • "100 petits cailloux" by Alice Gravier and Alicia Fleury is the captivating story of a sister and a brother who decide to find and count little rocks on the bench of the river. The Montessori counting system is explained in an easy and fun way.
  • "Compter" from "My first discoveries collection" is also available in English and German. It is the book that we like the less, because the numbers are introduced in a rather artificial way. But my daughter likes to be rad this book from time to time.

Also, another resource we love to use is our Speilgaben. Many loose parts available and implicitly many geometrical shapes!

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When I have placed these "gentle maths" materials on the shelves I haven't done any introduction. I haven't said for example that the round shape of the Grimm's puzzle can be cut in two and so you obtain two halves and so on. I haven't counted with her the plots of the wooden frame. And I haven't demonstrate the Montessori Tower. My approach at the moment is just to place the materials on the shelves and see what happens. I always answer the questions she asks me but I don't initiate any formal teaching, because... well, she is only 3 years old. And the truth is that sometimes the Grimm's puzzle and the wooden board become "cakes" and the loose parts of these materials migrate to her imaginative play space. But's that's ok.

I believe that learning maths is not about learning to count as younger as possible. Maths are all around us, therefore a child will naturally absorb it. I trusted this and I have the confirmation with my daughter. Materials and books are there only to feed her curiosity. Most of the learning comes from real life experiences, in situations that have nothing to do with maths at a first glimpse. In my daughter's case it was learning the numbers of the tracks for her favorite composers on a classical music CD. For her, learning to recognize and name numbers, was just a skill that helped her choose her favorite tracks on the CD. But that's what maths are, aren't they? A skill, not a purpose in itself.