We recognise that early childhood is key to young children’s development. By the age of 3 years 80% of their brain is developed and so it is important that the foundations of mathematical thinking, language and skills are supported from birth. So, how can we as practitioners (and parents) help children become confident in using and thinking about numbers and maths.
The most natural way that children become familiar with numbers, shapes, patterns and all things mathematical in early childhood is through play.
Three ways to promote maths in early childhood are:
Follow and build on children’s interest – notice their interests and extend them.
Make sure that language and activities are integrated and embedded within the curriculum – in other words make the experience real and relevant for children. Remember, they learn best when they can connect or identify with ideas. In one of the Learning Stories a child asked ‘Can I bring Rainbow (a Teddy) on a trip?’ This started the children thinking about travel, distance, countries and led them on to making flags.
Equip and prepare the environment – Think about materials that engage or fascinate children, that stimulate their thinking and provide some element of challenge. Remember, mathematical thinking, language and activities happen in every area of the service
Tea sets, pots, pans and cooking containers – a great opportunity to match up cups and saucers (have enough for a group) to put lids on pots, to use baking implements such as measuring jugs and spoons, timers,pastry shape cutters
Dressing-up clothes and jewellery
Pencils and paper (making lists, taking orders)
Cash register and money
Empty boxes / packages of different sizes (organising the stock by size)
Large hollow blocks, ramps, boards
Lego , stickle bricks, interlocking train tracks
Tape measure, spirit level
Plastic plumbing pipes and connectors
Pictures of different buildings
Table Top Toy Area
Deck of card, jig-saws, floor puzzles, board games, games with dice,
Peg board, threading, sorting sets, sequencing games (dominos), mosaics,magnetic shapes and tiles
Creative Art Area:
Paint and a variety of brushes (chubby to fine)
Markers, crayons, chalk, pencils, charcoal, pastels
Paper – a variety of sizes, shapes, textures, colours (sugar, crepe, tissue, card, paper plates)
Used cards and magazines
Sellotape, glue, insulating tape
Different fabrics, buttons,sequins, collage materials
A water tray that allows 3 or 4 children play together
A sand tray that allows a number of children play together
Jugs, funnels, water wheels, water pump,
Sieve, moulds, spades, bucket/container
Items that float and sink
Assortment of items that are the same but different (stones of different shapes, weights and sizes)
Swings, slides (learn about movement, speed, force, push-pull), bikes and trikes (direction and speed), sand and water area (volume, displacement
Kites (wind, velocity), Skittles (number,force)
Maths and mathematical learning happen naturally for children but the role of adult is crucial in:
Taking and making opportunities to help children think logically and solve problems
Equipping the setting both indoors and outdoors with interesting open ended materials that offer possibilities for the children
Introducing mathematical language in very real contexts so that children have plenty of experience in understanding concepts of up and down; in and out; over and under; more and less and so on
Allowing time and space for children to think, process and ask questions
Encouraging thinking skills by asking real and relevant questions, in constructing, the question can be asked ‘how many wheels do you need to build the truck?’
We have some ideas on promoting the following maths concepts in your service –
number, pattern, shape and space, and measuring and comparisons. We hope you find these useful in supporting positive attitudes and confidence in maths for the children in your care.
A very big THANK YOU to the children and staff at The ABC Club in Meath, and all the Learning Story participants, for the use of their photo’s, video’s and wonderful stories.
When early years educators have a sound knowledge of mathematics and the benefits of play, and the connections between them, there is great potential for early childhood experiences that extend young children’s mathematical understandings and attitudes.
Last but not least, an important part of mathematical play is that it should be fun! “We can influence young children’s keenness to learn mathematics by making the tasks we do of interest to them … by showing that we really think maths is important and fun”1
1Montague-Smith,Ann.Mathematics in Nursery Education.London:David Fulton Publishers, 2nd ed.2003