## How to introduce a child to the symbol for zero, Mathematics

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A 'woman was trying to teach her three-year-old child the numbers from 1to 5 from a children's book on numbers. Each number was illustrated by the same number of trees drawn next to it, like and so on. The mother would point at a number and the trees alongside; and say the number. The child would repeat everything after her. After a few days, when the child was asked to point to four in the book, she would do so correctly. Do you think the child has grasped the meaning of the numbers from one to five? What problems do you think this method of teaching has So far we have discussed ways of introduction children to natural numbers?

How would you teach them what 'zero' means? Would you do it the way my teacher did it - by saying that it means 'nothing'? He would say, "If you have five sweets, and you eat all of them up, then you have none left. That is zero." But many children, who are taught in this way, are confused when they come across O°C, or the point '-zero on the number line. So, it is better to let children experience zero like they did the other numbers, that is, using a variety of concrete objects. You could take three pencils; take one away, two remain; take one more away, one remains; take that one away, zero pencils remain. This will show that zero of something is nothing. So, it is only nothing, as an adjective.

But, as a noun, it is as much a number, as any other. To reinforce the idea in children that 'zero' is not nothing, you could organise games involving a , version of the number line on the ground. Any point on a straight line drawn on the ground can be taken as 'zero'. Points in front of it could then be I,2,3 ...... A child could hop forward-thrice, then .hop back once to Point 2, then once more to Point 1, and then once more to Point 0. Variations of this game, and other games, can be played to help children realise that zero is not 'nothing'. I

Now here's something that we need to think about.

When would you introduce a child to the symbol for zero - after she has understood the concept, or when you start explaining the concept to her ?

Most of us find it easier to introduce 'zero' to children by writing '0' on the board, rather than using objects to get the idea across. In fact, we tend to introduce any number name to children, by writing its numeral (i.e., the symbol for it) on the board or on paper. But, if we do this, children may begin to think that, for instance, 'two' has something to do with the shape of the written symbol '2', instead of understanding that the symbol is just an arbitrary way of denoting. 'twoness'. Therefore; numerals should be introduced only after the child has some concept of numbers. For example, when you are exposing a child to several groups of four objects, and the child is able to show you four marbles (say), then you could write 4 on the board (or on paper). This way the build starts recognising the numeral first. Only after this recognition is achieved should the child be asked to write the numeral.

Once children are familiar with numerals, you could show them how arbitrary the symbols are. This could be done by showing them different numeral systems that were used in the past and some that are in use at present.

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