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Game, set and match

Shropshire Mathematics Centre, Early Years Maths Pack Pounds 35. From: The Shirehall, Abbey Foregate, Shrewsbury SY2 6ND. Age range: 4 to 6

It is rare these days to see maths resources produced by local education authorities, mainly because so many good maths teams have gone. However, Shropshire Mathematics Centre has published a pack of professionally-produced activities for early years which contains 10 good and original card-based games and puzzles.

The sets of thick, colourful cards are sealed in plastic containers alongside some simple grid baseboards and an instruction book which gives concise information for each activity. The activities are pleasingly simple but effective, focusing on mainly mathematical skills: recognition of numerals, logic, jigsaw skills, association of numeral and quantity, naming simple shapes, repeating pattern and counting dots to five.

The games tend to be of the type where cards are laid out, picked up and matched or collected in some way, or sorted and placed on to a matrix. Both styles are ideal for young children, and are easily learnt, so that constant adult supervision will not be required.

My favourite activity is probably the most simple: two sets of large one to nine numerical cards have been chopped up. Children have to lay them out and fit them together. The teacher looks to see whether they know a number by seeing just half a card and there are variations on this idea. Some games where children are given 16 cards which they must fit together into sets of four with, say, three mice in each set of four or so that each set has a complete face, will encourage them to keep going at the task. Luckily, there are many solutions to these, or they would quickly get frustrated.

Once or twice, I wondered whether children might stray from the rules, but decided that this was actually a strength of the pack. There is enough flexibility for children to combine cards in their own ways. "I'm going to see if I can make faces with only one eye this time!" thus enabling mathematical thinking to be developed. The pack is perhaps a bit overpriced, but the materials look as if they would stand up to a lot of wear and tear.

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