Diana Hinds on a new series that makes maths part of everyday life It comes as no surprise that Walker Books should have decided to follow up its successful series for parents and children, Reading Together, which was published last year, with a mathematical equivalent entitled Maths Together.
Parents have a vital contribution to make to their children's numeracy learning, just as to their literacy. But the two present rather different challenges. Whereas most parents are ready to help with children's reading, but may feel uncertain about exactly how to go about it, when it comes to mathematics, many are quite unaware of the simple ways in which they could be supporting their children's learning.
Many parents think of maths for young children largely in terms of adding up and taking away - pencil-and-paper activities that will be taken care of once they are in the classroom. They tend to forget, however, that mathematics is also about size, shape, space, position, pattern - and the way we use and talk about these things in our everyday lives.
"Parents tend to think that maths is about getting the right answers," says Sheila Ebbutt, director of BEAM (Be A Mathematician), the mathematics consultancy which has collaborated with Walker Books on the new series. "But real mathematicians are interested not in right answers, but in procedures and lateral thinking. This is what we want to develop in our children."
This way of thinking about mathematics is in line with the National Numeracy Strategy, whose "mathematics lesson" is now part of every school day.
The project encourages children to talk about mathematical problems, to develop and refine strategies for solving them, and to manipulate numbers in their heads.
Maths Together lays the foundations for this kind of mathematical inquiry, helping parents and children to talk about and enjoy the mathematical aspects of everyday life. Its stories, poems and games prompt children to think and question in mathematical ways and spur them to broaden their mathematical vocabularies.
The series comprises two sets of six books (good value at pound;2.99 each, or pound;12.99 a set), one set aimed at children of three plus, the other at children of five plus. Each set has a book in the six key areas of number and counting, measures, playing, locating, designing, explaining and reasoning.
The series are well-written and handsomely illustrated (and include several titles from the Walker backlist and new titles). Each sets out at the back, sensibly and unpatronisingly, follow-up ideas for parents: things to talk about, questions to ask, games to play.
My five-year-old daughter had a stab at reading "Abu Ali Counts His Donkeys" (illustrated by the aptly-named Harry Horse). In this charming story, the foolish Abu Ali fails to count his donkeys properly because he forgets to count the one he's sitting on - a mistake which enables a young reader to feel pleasantly superior.
We also appreciated Nick Sharratt's "My Mum and Dad Make Me Laugh", about pattern, for its jokiness - who says maths has to be serious? And "What's in a Number?", a collection of poems, touches nicely on some of the mathematical conundrums beloved of young children, such as the impossibility of ever arriving at the "biggest" number. As Pam Gidney puts it: "I'll tell you something funny -The strangest thing under the sun There's never an end to numbers Because of Number One."