THE ENTIRE maths curriculum can be reduced to two things: balloons and bubbles.
While key stage tests may not offer marks for balloon sculpture, Caroline Ainslie insists that there are no Pythagorean puzzles or geometric complexities that cannot be explored through the art.
Ms Ainslie - or, more accurately, her alter ego, Bubblz the clown - visits nurseries and primaries around the country, conveying the curriculum through soapy water and coloured latex.
Dressed in red dungarees, a spotted shirt and oversized shoes - "they're my size, obviously. I have huge toes, you see" - Bubblz uses balloon sculpture to create geometric shapes. Pupils count the number of squares in a cube, or triangles in a tetrahedron, as she constructs the shapes in front of them.
She also conducts basic estimation and measuring exercises, asking pupils how many balloons, laid end to end, will cover the distance across the school hall. And, using geometric moulds made from straws, she creates bubbles in the shapes of cubes, octahedrons, pentahedrons and spheres. "It helps children to visualise the wonderment of shapes," says Ms Ainslie.
"It's not a lesson. It's definitely fun. But the children have to think.
The thinking becomes part of the fun. They know it's maths, but it helps them to realise that maths can be puzzles and games."
Before donning face paint and a floppy hat, Ms Ainslie, 45, worked as an electronic engineer. She had already been planning a career shift into education when she sold an item on eBay to a professional clown. "I thought, 'That's me! That's me!'," she says. "This is what I'm supposed to do with my life."
She eventually hopes to expand her act across the curriculum. There is no subject she will not tackle, provided it can be represented through bubbles and balloons. And she insists there is no age limit as everyone loves a clown.
"Yes, older children might take the mick at the start," she says. "But at the end they say, 'I thought you were a bit naff, but you're not. You're all right.' "
Pupils at Mulberry House primary in West Hampstead, north London, agree.
After a session with Bubblz, seven-year-old Honey Davidson-Ellis said: "It didn't feel like work. We don't normally laugh that much in maths.
"More clowns should teach school subjects. I'd like all teachers to be clowns."
But Claire Waites, the maths co-ordinator, will not be donning a red nose just yet. "Because they're not using rulers or numbers, they don't realise they're learning with Bubblz," she said. "But I don't know if I'll start balancing mops on one finger in lessons."