The revised national curriculum again stresses that children should develop their maths knowledge and understanding through "practical activity, exploration and discussion". Teachers are reminded to make appropriate connections bet-ween the different strands of maths and with other subjects.
The National Numeracy Strategy Framework, which can be regarded as a detailed basis for implementing the statutory requirements, also emphasises the importance of discussion and correct use of mathematical language from the earliest years. In some schools, however, the introduction of focused, three-part lessons has fragmented the maths and failed to make valuable links between subjects.
Symmetry is one aspect of key stage 1 maths that teachers can introduce quite naturally to science, PE, English, art, and design and technology, using children's interest in themselves and their environment.
Art Children's early drawings almost always have symmetry - children find satisfaction in having a certain "balance" in their drawings and paintings. Talk about this balance and discuss other examples of symmetry in the man-made and natural environment, such as the patterns on the wings of a butterfly.
Design and Technology Masks Young children love to examine and talk about artefacts from different parts of the world. Different kinds of masks are available from specialist shops and resource centres. Some, such as Chinese masks, are elaborate and strongly coloured. Help the children to recognise the symmetry. Encourage them to produce their own versions of the masks using strong paper or coloured card.
Kites Chinese and Japanese kites are another exciting starting point for thinking about shapes with one line of symmetry. They are very colourful and make a striking display. Young children need a lot of help to make kites that fly but they can easily produce colourful designs.
Textiles There are many different traditional quilts and hangings that can be borrowed and displayed. Amish quilts and Navaho blankets are particularly effective with their strong colour and simple patterns. Children like to make their own versions by colouring a rectangular piece of squared paper. They find it easier if they have only one line of symmetry to consider. Two children work quite happily on one design - each matching the other to maintain the symmetry.
Paper folding and cutting Children find folding and cutting paper to make symmetrical patterns interesting and challenging. They have to ask themselves what shapes they need to cut on the folded paper to make sure they get the shape they want when the paper is opened. Many are puzzled when the square they cut on the fold opens out into a rectangle. Producing a row of identical paper children is a real challenge.
Science Young children learning about left and right recognise that they themselves have a certain symmetry. This growing awareness can be discussed in science lessons when children are naming and comparing the main parts of the body.
PE In PE lessons children can create "symmetrical" shapes with their bodies. Pairs of children "reflect" each other. They stand, facing each other, and take turns to raise hands, arms, legs, which the other has to "reflect" accurately. Ask: "Which hand does your partner raise when you raise your right hand?" to start an interesting discussion that children will think about long after the lesson. This work in PE helps children to consolidate work in the classroom using mirrors.
Link with literacy There are many beautifully illustrated story books, particularly with stories from Asia and Africa, that provide starting points for a class discussion about shapes and symmetry. The Dick Bruna and Brian Wildsmith books are classics. Teachers will, of course, have their own favourites.
Children see that words such as pop, pup, dad and mum have a certain balance and they love William Blake's poem about the tiger with its "fearful symmetry".
Cross-curricular work helps to consolidate and enrich the children's mathematical understanding and gives them a firm foundation for later, more advanced work.
Marjorie Gorman is a primary and advisory teacher. She was a consultant on Channel 4's The Number Crew