Stern equipment from MathsExtra


By far the best the best maths equipment that I have come across over the years is the Stern Structural Arithmetic programme, which encourages children to reason rather than just rote learn. This approach was designed to follow a child’s natural stages of learning and development in the early years upward, to develop a number sense, number knowledge, concepts and number relationships, as well as ensuring that the pre-requisite skills are soundly in place prior to any formal work. It is also ideal for SEN children where little or no progress has been made in the past and for children who have been ‘moved on’ to the next stage, clearly before understanding the earlier stages.

Stimulating a child’s cognitive processing functions sits at the heart of the programme; the range of equipment provides wonderful ‘pictures’ which develop visual and auditory perceptual processing.

One example is the ‘stair’ in the 10-Box, where adding one more cube makes it the same ‘size’ as the next number. The concept then is explicit – adding one to any number will always result in the next number.

The Counting Board introduces position and sequence. The simple task, when asked to find a block to fit into an empty groove indicated, naturally develops a child’s judging, scanning and discrimination ability. Children discover that each block has its own special place in the series of blocks to 10. This means that it is not necessary only to work with numbers to 5.  Number relationships are a vital building block. Instead, children see the small numbers all ‘live’ at the beginning, and bigger ones ‘live’ at the end, (later to become on the left/right).

As an example of the Structural Arithmetic approach, look at 3 + 7 = 10. Children discover all the combinations that make 10 by fitting combinations of blocks into the 10-box. They reason that if 9 needs 1 to make 10, then 8 needs 2, and 7 needs 3 to make 10. By switching the blocks around, they discover that the order of the addends can be changed without changing the sum. Thus, they grasp that addition can be done in any order and can put it to use, reasoning that if 7 + 3 = 10, then 3 + 7 = 10. This fact has not been learned in isolation, but has been studied in a context where its relatioship to the other facts can be seen.

When children see an example such as 5 + 4 = and don’t know the answer, they often respond by counting “6, 7, 8, 9.” Teachers may assume that encouraging children to count, will one day result in their stopping counting and saying, ‘9’. Stern argues that, in fact, each time they see + 4 (as in 6 + 4 or 9 + 4), they automatically practise counting. The numbers themselves don’t have meaning. For the counting child, 5 plus 4 does not equal 9; it makes 9 by counting. No picture in the child’s mind makes the number fact 5 + 4 = 9 unforgettable. Furthermore, if children count the total incorrectly as 10, they have no certain way to check that result except by another uncertain counting procedure. On the other hand, in Structural Arithmetic, the two addends 5 and 4 actually measure 9 in the Number Track.

The Stern kits are not cheap, but I would recommend having a further read at

Mr Magnolia by Quentin Blake

Mr MagnoliaMister Magnolia

Written in the 1980s this is a great little story that is excellent for encouraging understanding of pairs and odd and even numbers. In this book Mr Magnolia leads a really happy life apart from one rather strange thing – he only has one boot. Written more or less as nonsense verse it appeals to children with imagination as he has a number of very strange possessions, including a frog, a toad and a newt, some exotic birds a big purple dinosaur who’s a magnificent brute.

Quentin Blake is, of course, one of our best known illustrators, having illustrated over 300 books, including many of Roald Dahl’s.

Ten, nine, eight by Molly Bang

tennineeight.pngTen, Nine, Eight by Molly Bang

To celebrate World Book Day, a few words about one of my favourite books for young children to help them with their maths.

Whatever you do, don’t miss this book if you have young children about to enter school. A counting book, in this case counting down from ten toes, nine friends etc as a father and young daughter get ready for bed.

The characters are interesting, an African-American family, and the warm colours of the illustrations really are a delight. Each page has a warm, comforting glow, perfect for a bedtime story.

I know of several children who have memorised the whole book – always a good sign!

The Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins

Each time the doorbell rings there is less for each child until they are down to only one each.

The Doorbell Rang imageThe Doorbell Rang by Pat Hutchins.
A great writer of children’s picture books, Pat Hutchins has created a wonderfully simple book which helps with the very earliest understanding of sharing. Mum has made 12 scrumptious cookies for her two children – obviously they are going to get lots each. They count them and find that they are going to get six each but then the doorbell rings and friends arrive to share the cookies. Each time the doorbell rings there is less for each child until they are down to only one each. Then the doorbell rings again!!

The Cockatoos by Quentin Blake

The Cockatoos by Quentin BlakeCockatoos (Red Fox Picture Books)

Another great book from Quentin Blake which will help children with their counting. The star of the book is a very fuddy duddy old chap called Professor Dupont. His day never changes; every morning washing, dressing, putting on his tie, going downstairs etc etc he sticks to the same routine which includes welcoming his ten cockatoos with exactly the same phrase every day,
“Good morning, my fine feathered friends!”
Now, the cockatoos are very, very bored with this routine and one day decide to play a trick on Professor Dupont. When he opens the conservatory doors to say good morning they have all gone!
The rest of the book is for the reader to find each of them, because the Prof just cannot find them.
Of course there is a happy ending. Some parents might themselves find this a little tedious but in my experience children (2 – 5) certainly don’t, so if you haven’t already, sit down and read it with them.

Two by Two by Barbara Reid

Two by Two by Barbara ReidTwo by Two by Barbara Reid
This book is a real must for any parent who loves sitting down and looking at books with their young children. Written in rhymes to tell the story of Noah’s Ark you will find your child returning again and again to their favourite pages.
One of the best aspects of the book is the amazing 3-D sculptured animals, but the book can be enjoyed in a number of ways. The rhymes can be read or sung and children can soon learn them or just look at the animals and talk about them and the tricks they get up to.
The animals come in two by two, three by three, four by four etc so it is easy to incorporate a little maths.

Seven Dizzy Dragons and Other Maths Rhymes by Sue Atkinson

Seven dizzy dragonsSeven Dizzy Dragons and Other Maths Rhymes by Sue Atkinson

‘Big books’ tend to be used only in schools as they are great for a teacher to sit with the class and look at the story. They also tend to be quite expensive and not easily available in book shops. This great book can be purchased as a ‘Big Book’ or as a paperback, but it is not easy to find.

However, I have put ‘Seven Dizzy Dragons and Other Maths Rhymes’ in my collection as it really is a great set of rhymes.
It contains 28 counting and number rhymes, including counting up in ones, twos, threes, and so on, odd and even numbers, patterns of numbers, ordinal numbers, number bonds to ten, and early addition and subtraction.

There are lots of ways to enjoy this book including learning and reciting the rhymes together and it is a great resource to help with early counting and number.

Jim and the Beanstalk by Raymond Briggs

Jim and the BeanstalkJim and the Beanstalk (Puffin Picture Books)

This is a rewrite of the famous Jack tale by Raymond Briggs. Just like Jack, Jim wakes up to find a tall plant growing outside his house. He climbs up to the top where there is a huge house. A very old giant lives in the house – not the nasty sort of giant in the traditional tale, but an unhappy one who no longer eats three boys on toast for breakfast! Jim gets the giant some large glasses, giant false teeth and a very red wig!

The ending is lovely and there is some great mathematical language in this book, mainly to do with size and shape. Perfect for 3 to 5 years old.

Why not take your child through an imaginary climb up the beanstalk to meet the giant?

Teddybears Go Shopping by S Gretz and A Sage

Teddybears Go Shopping (Picture Hippo)
Storybooks that are great for maths from

Making lists is an important part of the data handling strand of the Primary Framework for Maths and there is hardly a better example of list making than Teddybears Go Shopping by Susanna Gretz and  Alison Sage.
The shopping list is very much like a song and encourages children to repeat it –great for encouraging the memory! However, all does not go exactly to plan at the supermarket as William and the rest of the bears go shopping!
Children of all ages love this book – well worth reading!

Mr Wolf’s Week by Colin Hawkins

Mr.Wolf’s Week
Mr Wolf’s Week by Colin Hawkins is an old favourite and one of the best versions is the mini-pop up.
In this book the wolf is not very threatening, perhaps almost friendly in appearance.  It is a brightly coloured book which leads you through a week in the life of Mr Wolf. He wears different clothes each day of the week which co-incide with the type of weather. It rains on Mondays so he takes an umbrella with him etc  etc. The pages are really brightly coloured and funny.
Good for talking about the days of the week in the right sequence as well as talking about the weather.
There is not a lot of writing on the pages, but the illustrations give plenty of ideas to talk about, which is probably why it is a favourite in classrooms.