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By James Clements, posted on 22nd June 2020

Teaching number bonds (without any screens)

For obvious reasons, lots of our children’s schoolwork is being set online at the moment.

Video clips, online platforms, and apps are all brilliant ways to support children with their maths but, if we can take some parts of schoolwork away from devices, it frees up screen time for the things we want to do online: play games, watch programmes, and talk to family and friends.

Here is a step-by-step example of how we completed one task sent home from school without using a screen.

Practising number bonds

The task was to learn and practise number bonds to 20 and number bonds to 100, an objective from the Year 1 curriculum in England. We were given the details of a free app that we could use. There was nothing wrong with the app – in fact, it looked pretty good – but it would have meant an extra ten minutes of screen time every day that we could avoid. So, here is what we did:

Step 1

To start, my daughter wrote the number bonds to 10 (for example, 2 and 8, 3 and 7, 4 and 6) on some squares of scrap paper. Then she matched them up with their pair to make 10.

We talked about the numbers and tried representing a few of them with some little blocks. Then, we played a game where I would choose one and she had to find the matching number as quickly as she could. She would then choose one and I had to find the matching number. You’ll never believe which one of us was quickest!

She was already pretty confident with number bonds to 10, but starting here is a good idea because:

  • It helps to reinforce the language: number bonds, pairs, total.
  • To remind of her of the concept of number bonds, so that we are not starting from scratch.
  • It lets us practise the activity first with familiar maths, so when we introduce new maths later, she hasn’t got to worry about what to do and the maths at the same time.
  • It is a chance to practise writing the numbers out (she’s left-handed and so it is easy for her to write numbers backwards if she hasn’t written them for a while – another reason why maths off-screen can be a good idea).

She knows how to do it already – there’s nothing like a bit of early success to put you in the mood for learning!

Step 2

Next, we talked about number bonds to twenty and decided we would play the same game with these. My daughter used a pen to add tens to some of the cards and we matched them up to make twenty where we could.

This made it clear that number bonds to 20 were exactly the same as to 10, but with an additional 10. We were not just learning new number facts, but rather seeing how they relate to something we already know.

Step 3

Next, we made new cards for the missing number bonds, organising them into pairs and working systematically to check we had not missed any. Then we mixed them all up and timed ourselves to see how quickly we could match them up again.

I ‘helped’ so my daughter did not feel she was on her own, but my help mainly consisted of me picking one up and saying, ‘Hmm, 18, what does that go with again?’ until she took pity on me and passed my the number 2 card. She was really quick on some of the pairs, but slower on others, so I remembered the ones she found tricky and repeated them a few times to reinforce them.

Step 4

Next, we played the memory game where you take it in turns to turn over two cards and keep them if they match. The best bit about these homemade cards was that you could quite clearly see the numbers through the paper, meaning my daughter could cheat at will. This meant she was able to find a pair every time. Cue lots of disbelieving ‘How are you doing it? It’s magic!’ from me and much delight from my daughter.

After three straight wins in a row, she offered to help me win a game (which she did, meaning one last bit of practice when she might otherwise be bored – Machiavelli eat your heart out!). As we played, she got quicker and quicker at finding the pairs each time. This fluency will prove so useful when it comes to calculations and problem solving at school.

Step 5

This was all I had planned to do, but then my daughter suggested playing a game that she played with her teacher at school. One person thinks of a number (or in our case, chooses a card) and the other asks questions until they can guess what it is. So here, she might ask:

Is it an odd number?

Is it bigger than ten?

Does it go with 3 to make 20?

Does it go with 5 to make 20?

The moral of the story here is that it is well worth asking your child what they do at school to practise maths. They might remember a great way from class and they will probably love teaching you and being the expert.

Step 6

And that was that. Lots of fun, a break from the tablet and my daughter learnt some maths. To follow it up, we’ll:

  • Play the game again in a couple of days time (and then a few more times, leaving increasingly long gaps between games to help her to remember them).
  • Try the whole thing again, but with number bonds to 100.
  • Watch a programme on TV using the time we didn’t spend doing number bonds on the screen!