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Playfully becoming the Mathematicians of tomorrow


Tuesday 18 October 2016

It's that time of the year again… Maths Week has arrived. Last year, Maths Week Ireland engaged well over a quarter of a million people. What an accomplishment! Children from all corners of Ireland celebrated their passion for learning maths. As early year educators we all know that it is not a time to sit children down and formally ‘teach’ them maths, but that’s not to say for a second that children’s mathematical minds are not flourishing rapidly throughout their daily play. Mathematical concepts are experimented with and explored by children or even babies at a level so deep during play that it becomes more than merely learning a subject. It becomes a meaningful relationship that will in turn impact on their future learning of all things mathematical.


Below we see children rolling tyres - would flashcards with a circle on it have the same learning for those boys as rolling a tyre? This photo alone demonstrates many concepts such as shapes, rolling, speed, accuracy and even figuring out the equation of movements that need to be managed in order to roll the tyre and get results. The children in the other photograph are naturally forming a line and using all the muscles in their bodies not to fall off, gaining again a meaningful understanding of balance. Learning happens as much in the body as it does in the head. These children are developing a strong embodied sense of maths and without this embodied sense, maths in the head would never make sense. The body is where their intuitive sense of mathematical concepts comes from and this is why active play is the really important. Isn’t it wonderful to think that these children choose this play and that the process of learning maths can come so naturally when children are afforded the time, space and freedom to make their own meaningful choices to play.


Our role as the educators or parents is to truly know our place in the children’s play and celebrate it. If rich play is taking place, let the children get on with it and try not to interrupt or question it as it may be just reaching the most powerful part. You can say what you see in the moment (“look at those lovely parallel lines that you’re drawing’’) or you can talk to them later about it. They may not know it but they could just be about to gain a true understanding of huge concepts such as parallel lines, volumes and weights, or what happens when an equation pans out and a result is found (see photos below).


Play happens day by day in early childhood services. We have all witnessed babies exploring their voices by demonstrating varying pitches or their inborn, natural sense of rhythm. We have all witnessed children playing shop and expressing their mathematical lingo/language in conversations about costs, money, sorting and quantities. These are all everyday occurrences in the early years - magical moments! These are all provided through a recipe of a freedom to play and explore mixed nicely with the children’s inquisitive nature that lays the foundations so discreetly for our future mathematicians.

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