Early Maths Stories

Tony Lelliott

 Embedding mathematical ideas and simple concepts in early reading books is regarded as good for children’s development, as well as being enjoyable. With funding from the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust Saide developed  12 storybooks each with an aspect of mathematics included and trialled the best four stories at three South African schools. These can be found on Saide's  African Storybook website. Tony Lelliott reports.

The 12 Storybooks covered aspects of mathematics from counting, to time telling, to money and size to the use of fractions, and they were mostly pitched at the higher reading levels (grades 2 to 3).

A review process in 2017 identified the four best stories as Ndalo and Pendo – The best of friends, Mr. Mkhize’s Quarters, Counting cabbages, and When the big blue bus was late. These books were trialled in three primary schools in English, isiNdebele, Sesotho and isiZulu. Learners thoroughly enjoyed the books, and were reported to have been excited to find maths within storybooks – they had assumed that maths and language are separate subjects. The learners favourite story was When the big blue bus was late. After minor revisions, the books were translated into all the 11 official South African languages. The stories developed have been gathered into an ASb collection of stories  Primary Maths Stories.

The project has demonstrated that it is possible both to develop books with maths concepts from scratch, and to adapt existing stories to incorporate maths concepts. However, the idea of using traditional African stories containing mathematical concepts is also a possibility for the future. In order to develop the best possible stories, a process which involves writing, critique by appropriate experts (including numeracy), and revision is recommended. Numerous revisions were made during the critique process, while relatively few were made after field testing in schools, suggesting that field testing is not crucial to the process.

African Storybook plans to include more non-fiction stories with maths and science themes. This will enable these crucial subjects to be integrated into interesting stories for young children to read.