tr.v. strewed, strewn (stro͞on) or strewed, strew·ing, strews
To spread here and there; scatter or distribute:
Strewing is an informal way to incorporate math learning into our homes.
Strewing is a term used by home-schoolers, for the practice of putting interesting things in the way of your children, things they will pick up and investigate. It is an amazingly effective way to allow your children the freedom to explore, investigate and learn.
There are some great posts explaining the how and why of strewing for younger children, but I would like to focus today on strewing for math learning for 5 to 12 year olds. If you are looking for ideas for younger children, scroll to the bottom of the page for links to some other great posts.
While you can strew for any type of interest, I find planning with a focus in mind, helps to direct learning and support the areas your child is currently studying. We first started incorporating this practice into our home during the multiple lockdowns that we experienced during the COVID pandemic. I was looking for ways to keep the children busy and distracted, without resorting to screens. My first little math strewing experiment was a basket on the coffee table with little quiz and activity books and some crazy maze pens to write with. It worked so well that it is now a permanent feature on our coffee table. As the books fill or start to look tatty I replace them. You can find all kinds of pocket-sized puzzle books in newsagents, cheapy shops, at the post office or places like K-Mart. Keep your eyes open and buy a few when you see them.
Some other ideas:
Books—Have a look at your local library or op-shop for math-related books that you can leave lying out or put on display for your children to discover. There are some great books around. Every so often I post on Instagram some of the books we have found and love, but if you are looking for a list of recommended books, Denise Gaskins has compiled a comprehensive list (actually lists) here. https://denisegaskins.com/living-math-books/
Wooden puzzles and brainteasers— (like the ones at https://www.mrpuzzle.com.au/product-category/wooden-puzzles/) It is inviting, not only for your children, but anyone who comes to visit, to see a wooden puzzle /brainteaser asking to be played with. We have a couple that I put out every now and then. They can be great for those of us who like to have something to work on or play with while we chat.
Jigsaw puzzles—Every long summer holiday we chose a family puzzle to work on. We set up a dedicated table for anyone to work on whenever they feel like it. We usually finish a 1500-2000 piece in about 2 weeks depending on how tricky it is. On rainy days, I have some smaller less challenging ones that we can finish in the afternoon.
Dominoes, cards, pick-up sticks—while these are mostly tucked away in our games cupboard, every once in a while I’ll put a basket out with a variety of things that can be used for multiple games. See if your children can invent their own math games using the items in the basket. Usually, my kids end up just using them for Domino toppling and Card house making, both fun activities!
Measuring equipment—When I was working on my first math guide, the one on measurement, I left out a basket with various tools that I found around our house and work shed. The children loved it and played around with everything in it. I was amazed at how much fun they had with a retractable measuring tape, it made me realize that I needed to give my children more unstructured math time. The next basket I put together was full of volume measurement items. It was just as successful, in terms of how engaged they were with the learning.
Calculators, abacus, 100’s board– Just leave them lying about and see if they inspire some investigation. I’m so glad I invested in an abacus, not only is it beautiful, it is also fun, and really not that expensive at all. With the 100’s board leave a few of these little booklets next to it or look at this list of ideas on how to have fun with them.
Shapes, Flat nets, 3D fill-ables, pictures to complete—I love to try and make the stewing as inviting as possible. Bright colours and tactile shapes are an alternative to the natural, wooden things I might like to choose normally. While I’m not a big plastic fan, I do love the look and feel of our 3D fillable shapes and the feel of our shape boards. An arrangement of shapes is can be a great invitation to play, even for the big kids!
Mosaics –create your own mosaic tiles with supplies from the craft shop, buy a sticker mosaic book or just put some grid paper and coloured card, snipped into a small square for fun. Have a few Islamic Geometric Tile art books on display and see what your children can come up with.
Nesting dolls (Babushkas) – more for the younger children, but the older children may like to paint their own. You can buy unpainted, wooden ones in some craft stores or online. We used ours to explore the difference in capacity and volume and compare volume.
Balancing toys—Always fun, explore the center of gravity in a fun informal way. We have stacking elephants that we love and also a game called Suspend.
Origami squares and books on Origami—Have some paper and books on hand. Fold a few easy things in advance and just leave them lying around. Who could resist trying to fold that beautiful paper into a butterfly or frog?
Tangrams, Pentominoes, Mazes—Can you solve the puzzle? Put out a challenge and see who is first to solve it. This one is for the whole family.
Spirograph—I’ve been a Spirograph fan since my parents bought me a set when I was younger. I still love to sit and draw with the Spirograph. Just leave it out, with LOTS of spare paper. Oh, and make sure the pens work or that you have a surplus on hand, there is nothing more frustrating than starting a masterpiece only to have your pen run out!!!
While stewing can be a fun way to informally invite your children to learn, there are a few things that I have found to keep in mind. Strewing is not an invitation to keep a messy house. In fact, if you try to strew in an already cluttered mess, your children will most likely not even be drawn to the material. I like to keep the items in a basket or a specific place. Once they have finished investigating and playing, they know exactly where to put everything to clear up. It also helps to keep things to a minimum so that the children are not overwhelmed. A few things at a time, rather than a truckload at once!
If something is not getting the interest you thought it would don’t worry. Put it away for another day. Resist telling the children that they have to be excited about your offering. I find it very disheartening when I’ve put a lot of effort into thinking about and preparing a strewed ‘invitation to play’ and they just ignore it. Not all the things you strew will be successful. And that’s OK.
One trick I did learn was to sit down and play with the materials myself. All of a sudden, what they had totally ignored became intriguing and before long ALL the kids had joined in. Sometimes they just need to see that mum thinks this is worth looking at.