MEP Reception – A Thoughtful Introduction to Math

Are you looking for an introductory math curriculum with a strong focus on thinking for your 4 to 6 year old?  Consider MEP Math – Reception, a FREE printable curriculum based on a Hungarian Kindergarten Math program.  MEP has been developed by the Center for Innovation in Mathematics Instruction “to enhance the mathematical progress of students in primary schools.” See this page for more background information.

Last month my four year old completed the 60th and final lesson, and here are some things I like about MEP Reception:

Counting:  Students are introduced to numbers up to ten, but the emphasis is not on the reading or writing of numerical digits.  Instead, for example, when the number six is discussed a student may write six dots or tally marks, clap six times,  knock on the table six times, or count out six objects (counters).  The writing of digits is postponed until Year 1.

Observation:  In an early lesson, a student is given colored sticks or toothpicks.  He is asked to look at a picture and study shapes made out of colored sticks and think about how many of what color toothpicks are needed to make the table, chair, tree, etc.  He then recreates the pictures on his own with care to make the same shape and use the same color sticks.

Mental Operations:  Students are asked to listen to a story, think of an answer but wait until called upon to say it.  For example, an earlier lesson says, “Two rabbits were playing in the clearing, then a rabbit joined them.  How many rabbits are there now altogether?” (Pause and wait and then ask for the answer.)  This is my one of my favorite parts of Reception, because it trains him to think of the answer and hold it in place before saying the answer.  Over time the difficulty level of the these questions increases, and towards the end of  Reception comes a question like this:  “A monkey had ten bananas.  He ate two bananas first, then three bananas, and then one.  How many bananas remained?”  This all takes place mentally without writing it down, which I see as a plus.  (It is okay if the child wants to draw a picture of what is happening after thinking about it for awhile to help him solve it, but this program really gets him to think about things rather than simply being told what to do and how to solve it immediately.)  Another question asks the following: “Ann, Ben, and Celia collected shells.  Each of them collected three shells.  How many shells had they collected all together?”  In the last example, multiplication is being introduced.

Games: Reception uses games throughout to make learning more engaging.  When played well, the student forgets its math time and focuses on winning the game (and meanwhile is learning addition or subtraction depending on the game.)  For example, in one game the student is to put a dog (or some counter) on a colored square to begin.  She throws the dice and moves as many steps as the number of dots she rolls on the dice.  Later the game is played again but modified so that now the player moves one more space than the number on the dots rolled on the dice.  To win, you must throw the exact number needed to get to the bone when you get close enough or you will lose your turn.  The student will be so focused on winning that she will forget that she is learning the +1 addition facts!

In another game, a student throws the dice and if a one, three, or five (odd number) is rolled, he may move that many place to the right or left.  If a two, four, or six is thrown, he may move that many places up or down.  He must also say aloud the number of spaces and the direction.  The first player to reach his colored square on the opposite side wins.  This game mentally separates the odd and even numbers on a dice without formally discussing ‘odd’ and ‘even’ numbers.  It is guiding the student, I think, to make a distinction between those two groups of numbers for a reason to be revealed at a later time.

Ordinal Numbers: Students are asked when looking at a line of people about who is the first, second, third, fourth, and then it jumps to the question of who is the fourth from the end of the row, first from the end of the row?, etc.  It goes from simple to more complex questions gradually.

Sets: Set theory is gently introduced.  For example, one lesson asks the student to notice a certain set of mugs in a group.  It asks how many are colored, and then how many are not colored.  Also the mathematical symbols often used with set theory, intersection and union, are creatively placed on sheets to be traced – building a student up to these ideas by using both thoughts and symbols.

Geometry: Geometric shapes introduced are mainly circles, quadrilaterals (including squares and rectangles), triangles, and few others types to show the distinction from the former.  Students are expected to analyze the shapes that make up a steam engine in one lesson.  Then they are asked to color them the same color they are on the train.  Next they’re asked how many circles, quadrilaterals, triangles, and total number of shapes to build it.

* Decomposing:  A student is asked to think of how many different ways can we divide ten counters between two people.  All the combinations are demonstrated: 10,0; 9,1; 8,2; 7,3; 6,4; 5,5; 4,6; 3,7; 2,8; 1,9; and 0,10.  Students will possibly see the pattern of what is happening after arranging the first few combinations.  Also, if the student notices that combinations can be reversed (3,7 and 7,3) , this would be an opportunity to demonstrate the Commutative Property of Addition – that is – the order of addends doesn’t change the sum.

Sequences: Sequences appear towards the end of Reception.  Any counters/shapes/etc. can be used to make a pattern that repeats, and the student is asked which shape or color of counter would come next.  (I used Teddy bear counters of different colors to make patterns for my son.)  Later, numbers are said in patterns, and the student is asked to repeat (say) the number pattern. Singing it in a chorus may help him remember it.

* Making Figures: This was my son’s favorite part.  Paper is folded and shapes are drawn on the fold to be cut out by the student.  The last lesson contains many of these, and it promotes spatial skills and the idea of symmetry.

What I view as Reception’s greatest strengths are the mental development of operations and the focus on thinking throughout the program before the writing of words and numbers is ever introduced.  Ideas are developed in small, purposeful steps with the depth expanded leading to more complicated concepts over time.  Things are happening for a reason even if the child may not see where he is being led.  I was impressed with the thinking skills it encouraged in my son, especially with the development of mental operations.  We had fun playing the games, and he was so determined to win that he forgot he was learning math.

It is teacher intensive, and I do recommend reading the lesson ahead of time for preparation to understand where the authors are going with the concepts and to locate any needed manipulatives, counters, etc.

MEP Reception is a gentle and thoughtful introduction to Mathematics for little ones.  If you would like to learn more about it, I recommend starting here and spending a little time reading through the introductory material.  You may also read an earlier review I wrote, MEP Math – For a Change (An Early Review).

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