A chance to play the evil sorceress
Tom Deveson recommends a fun resource pack
For young children, time to play is time to learn. One inspiring demonstration of this half-forgotten truth is found in the work of MakeBelieve Arts, which has involved numerous south London pupils at key stage 1 in mathematical thinking.
Deriving inspiration from research by the Canadian educator Kieran Egan and the American kindergarten teacher Vivian Gussin Paley, MakeBelieve Arts has developed a five-part tale in which knotty points in the narrative can be negotiated by exploring ideas of number, shape and space.
Now the entire package is available in book form and it should be welcomed in countless classrooms. The stories follow traditional patterns with enjoyable quirky variants. There's a far-away island with a well-meaning but slightly dopey king, a smart young girl called Lily, a likeable prince, a wise old woman and an evil sorceress. Children can play any of these parts (though teachers might like to be the wicked Avara) and they can also be advisors, soldiers, customers, barrels and rocks. Through these roles, they perform rhythmic chants, stand still or move purposefully around, count tiny grains of rice or measure lengths of cloth.
While doing this, they are exploring why place value is useful and time-saving, how standard units of measurement came to be necessary or what the virtues are of precision in division. The stories delightfully frustrate and puzzle, turning to enlightenment as problems are solved.
The pack contains individual reading versions of all five stories, generously spaced in illustrated A4 format. The Teacher's Book also has the story texts, but adds photocopiable props and accounts of the accompanying activities, as well as key vocabulary, objectives and suggested follow-ups with teaching points. Whether it's marking out a masking-tape maze to represent the labyrinth in which Avara's tower is hidden and from which Lily escapes by working out a sequence of right and left turns, or mapping the island and then dividing it into increasingly smaller fractions, the sense of thoughtful and happy involvement is maintained throughout.
* Dramatic Mathematics is a collaboration between MakeBelieve Arts and Creating Success EiC Action Zone, London Borough of Lewisham