Marjorie Gorman turns a trip to the garden centre into a learning experience that links parents and teachers.
Gardening is becoming increasingly popular as a leisure-time activity. Numerous television programmes on the subject have developed loyal followings, and it is now trendy to pay a visit to Monet's garden or even to plan a holiday to study famous gardens at home and abroad.
Local garden centres have been quick to recognise this growing trend, which can be shared by the whole family. Many now offer a wide range of products in addition to garden supplies, such as pet food, household goods, furniture, and casual clothing. Families can browse for ages, and in many centres, can complete their visit with a drink and a snack in the cafe.
Parents can help their children's maths on such a visit simply by talking to their children, asking questions about what interests them and listening to the replies. Talk, question, listen is all that it takes. There is no need to make it an "educational" visit.
Raising children's awareness of what they are seeing while helping them to make links with what they know might even add to their enjoyment.
Square deal The vital role which parents play in their children's learning has been recognised by the Government in a number of ways - in their homework guidelines in home-school contracts, which takes effect this month, and in the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategies. The National Year of Reading, now drawing to a close, has been a success. Next year has been designated "Mathematics 2000" and it is hoped that the links already made with parents to help their children's reading and writing, can be extended to include mathematics.
However, it is well known that many people have negative feelings about mathematics. Many parents, although quite happy to help with reading and writing, will need more support to develop their own confidence before they feel able to help their children with mathematics.
They will need more information from schools, not only about the numeracy strategy and the key targets for each year group, but also about the valuable contribution everyday family activities can make to raising standards by enabling children to practise the skills being introduced in the classroom. The National Numeracy Strategy recognises that numeracy is more than knowing about numbers: "It requires an ability and inclination to solve numerical problems, including those involving money or measure."
These are the sort of problems that adults do all the time - often working in the head, estimating and approximating in order to get a rough idea of the answer before checking accuracy. These are skills which the NNS is trying to encourage children to develop. It is our job to convince parents that maths is not just pages of sums. Children must be able to use and apply their skills in everyday situations.
The NNS lays great emphasis on mathematical vocabulary. In the interactive teaching being encouraged in class, children need to be able to work things out in their heads and describe and explain their ways of working. They also need to visualise and use their imagination when solving problems. Parents can help with these requirements as they visit the park, the supermarket or the garden centre.
Here are a few of the NNS outcomes that could be touched on as parents and children walk round a garden centre.
* At KS1 CHILDREN NEED TO BE ABLE TO:
1 Describe positions - in front, behind, under, at the side of, and so on. Think about the displays of plants, vases and ornaments.
2 Describe size and compare lengths, heights, widths, capacities. Look at all kinds of plants, leaves, plant pots.
3 Recognise and describe patterns. In paving slabs, bricks, trellises and shelf displays.
4 Describe, in everyday language, cube, sphere, cone, cylinder, circle, triangle, rectangle, square. Such shapes are found all over the garden centre.
5 Solve money problems. Children can calculate the cost of items and work out the change.
6 See multiplication as an array. For instance, three rows of two plants or two rows of three plants.
At KS2 children need to: 11 = 1 Add to their mathematical language words like concentric and circumference, and be able to describe and visualise 2D and 3D shapes, including cross-sections. All shapes found around the centre.
2 Recognise symmetry. Identify whether letters, designs, logos, plants have a line of symmetry.
3 Recognise shapes which tessellate, such as squares, rectangles, regular hexagons, and ones that do not like circles and regular pentagons. Look at paving stones and bricks, find spirals in sunflowers and cones.
4 Know the relationship between imperial and metric measures. Plant pots are measured in inches and centimetres.
5 Have opportunities to visualise, to estimate and approximate perimeters and areas. Involve the children in working out questions, such as how many slabs would we need for out patio?
6 Recognise the relationship between fractions, decimals and percentages. Notices giving 10 per cent off or half price sale. You can suggest questions to parents that will start children thinking mathematically: For Younger children
* When is the centre open?
* Which is your favourite plant? Why?
* Where is the largest or the smallest container? How would you describe its shape? Is it curved?
* Which plants are taller than you? Which is the tallest plant? Would you say it was more than a metre? Are any plants more than a metre tall? What might happen if the plant kept on growing and growing?
* Which things cost more than pound;1?
* How many plants are there in this tray? How did you work that out? Does it matter which way round you look at it?
For Older children
* How are these plant pots measured? Is that the diameter or the circumference?
* About how many of these paving slabs would we need for our patio? Roughly how much would that cost? Could you draw a scale plan?
* Which other shapes of paving could we use? Would there be spaces between the slabs? How many slabs for making a path round the pond?
* Is 50 per cent off the same as half price? What would 10 per cent off the bill be?
* How many hours a week is the centre open?