“What am I” game

What animal am I? I have four legs, eat grass and leaves and leopards like to eat me. There are many of us in the Kruger Park? If your kids enjoy this kind of game, then teaching them the properties of shapes can be fun with the “what shape am I” game. For example, I have four sides and they are all the same length….what shape am I? Seems the oxpecker might just know!

With lots of leisure and travel time in the holidays, the “What am I” game adapted from “I spy with my little eye” can be educational and fun for younger children. One person gets to pick a number, for example and then give some clues about that number. The others need to use the clues to try and find the number. The person who correctly identifies the number gets to have a turn choosing another number and clues. Different variations are possible with shapes (as already mentioned), numbers, measurement and number patterns. Here are some examples: 

  • I am bigger than 10 but smaller than 40. I am a multiple of 9 (or I am an answer in the 9 times table) and my second digit is double the value of my first digit. ANSWER: 36
  • I am bigger than zero but smaller than 50. My two digits add up to 13. What number am I? ANSWER: 49
  • I am a unit of time used to measure the 100m race in athletics. What unit am I? ANSWER: seconds or milliseconds
  • I am a unit of measurement used to measure the weight of a loaf of bread. What unit am I? ANSWER: grams
  • The first three numbers of my pattern are 4 ; 8 ; 12…..What pattern am I? (in other words how will you find the next term?) ANSWER: by adding 4 each time. 

Spotting patterns

Number patterns and relationships in mathematics form such a core part of this discipline. Identifying patterns is something that should become second nature to learners already in the early years. From that they learn to extend and later to generalise patterns. The best part of patterns in maths is discovering them and in that also lies the beauty of maths. When mathematical rules are taught without allowing learners themselves to play and discover patterns that emerge, these can deny learners one of the most satisfying and important parts of this subject.


Patterns are all around us, in house and street numbers, nature, art and clothing. You can start encouraging your kids from a young age to become more aware  of patterns by encouraging them to explain to you in their own words what they see. For example, this Red-crested Korhaan has what looks like white V’s or arrow-head patterns that repeat themselves on a black background in their feathers. Zebras have a pattern of black and white alternating stripes on their bodies. Butterflies have a variety of different patterns on their wings. And different species of giraffe have different patterns on their bodies.

Ndebele huts in rural Southern Africa are often painted with beautiful repetitions or patterns of shapes that we call tessellations. Patterns (and tessselations) are often found in floor and wall tiles and on fabric used to make clothing, curtains and furniture. Develop a natural feel for number patterns by playing games with your kids that encourage them to complete a pattern that you start. You give five numbers and they need to say what they thing the next five numbers are. The one who gets it right gets to make the new pattern. These are great games for long car trips. A game of hop scotch can also make patterns more active for outdoor play. Older kids can be encouraged to verbalise and describe number patterns in their own words and later to generalise the pattern. This creates a wonderful basis for learning about functions and relations in maths in high school.

Unfortunately our school system seems to focus much more on teaching kids mathematical rules and then giving them practice applying these rules. But maths is about emerging patterns, and conventions developed from those patterns. If we want our learners and kids to enjoy mathematics, let’s encourage a greater emphasis on number patterns and allowing them the space to investigate, spot, feel, describe and generalise patterns. This will create better thinkers and later researchers and problem solvers for our society.

Maths with the monkeys

Coming soon……Back to basics in Maths with the monkeys. Come and join us as we meet the troop of monkeys who live around my farm while we also look at some fundamental concepts central to understanding mathematics. These include the four basic operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division….what they actually mean and some fun ways to master the mental side of these operations. 

Taking a closer look at understanding

So much can be gained when we consider the detail. Did you know, for example, that zebras have hair around their mouths and freckles on their noses? And if you look closely on this photo you will even see the red tick perching there. We often only see the stripes but zebras have so many more details to offer. The same is true in mathematics. Learning the rules may help you but a closer look at understanding will give you so much more access to the finer details of the beauty and complexity of this wonderful subject.

Small and large spotted notation issues in Mathematics


In South Africa we get two species of genet: the large spotted genet and the small spotted genet. The main difference between the two lies in the colour of the tip of the tail. The large spotted genet has a black tipped tail and the small spotted one has a white tipped tail. It is not really about the size. Another difference is that the small spotted genet has entirely black spots on its body while the large spotted one has black spots with a rusty coloured centre. This is Stripes the genet who regularly comes to visit me in the evenings. I’ll leave you to decide what type of genet it is? In mathematics we need to pay close attention to the notation. A slight change can mean something completely different. For example, f(x) indicates a y-value on a Cartesian plane but f ‘(x) indicates the derivative which is the gradient at any point. Small notational difference but big mathematical difference!

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