As explained in our previous posts , in this series of our blogs, we will be taking an in depth look into each area of the seven areas of learning and development and talking about and demonstrating how we support the children’s learning and development in each area and the benefits this has. We will look at each area from a home-based childcare perspective, an early years setting as a whole and talk about how these activities or ones similar can be adapted and used at home to develop continuity across the child’s experiences and environments.
This week we will be looking at Mathematics. Mathematics in the Early Years refers not only to numbers and counting, but encompasses shape, space, measure, time and categorising objects.
Children begin to develop their mathematics skills from birth as the EYFS outlines in the ‘Development Matters’ where children aged 0-11 months can normally acquire the skill to ‘notices changes in number of objects/images or sounds in group of up to 3’, within this age band.
As with communication and literacy, the earlier a child is exposed to opportunities and experiences involving mathematical skills, language and material, the earlier their skills will develop. In order to develop mathematical skills and language, children must have a range of opportunities to develop and practise the different skills they will need to develop an understanding of numbers, shape, space and measure.
Practitioners and parents alike are always surprised to find out that skills such as ‘know that things exist out of sight’ and ‘categorise objects according to properties’ are considered to be a mathematical skill as per the EYFS.
As result of this, activities and every day routines both at home and in the child’s early years setting can cover an extensive range of mathematical skills. For example, ‘tidy-up time’ supports and develops children in categorising objects according to their properties as well as supporting them in problem solving in relation to shape, size and measure as they explore how to fit objects back in a box or container.
As a setting we are huge advocates of loose parts and particular in relation to mathematics, these type of open-ended play opportunities allows children to independently, curiously and creatively experiment with numbers, shape, space and measure. As with any type of learning, when a child is in control of and directs their own play, the learning opportunities and are significantly more meaningful and children generally learn and retain the skills they learn faster than other formal learning styles.
Similarly, as we mentioned in an earlier blog in this series on communication and language if a child is exposed to a significant amount language in general, they will of course acquire language skills at a significantly faster rate than if they are exposed to very little language. This is also the case for mathematical language; if children are not exposed to or hear adults and other children using language related to height, weight, capacity, depth, time and money – how will they ever learn what these words mean and how to explore these mathematical concepts in their play?
As with all aspects of children’s learning and development, the physical environment in which a child is exposed to is just as important as the language they hear and so an exciting and stimulating learning environment that promotes mathematical development should provide children with opportunities to stack, build, count, measure, weigh and mark-make as they count and build.
Representing numbers is just as important as counting and recognising numbers especially representing these numbers on their fingers as well as beginning to use marks in order to count and represent numbers too and this where mathematics and Literacy can work hand in hand. Similarly, it is also important to ensure as the child’s ‘knowledgeable other’ that we ensure that children learn that it is not only physical objects that can be counted, but that anything can be counted (steps, claps, movements etc.) in order for them to grasp a wider understanding of mathematics and numbers as they get older.
It is also important to remember that patterns are a significant aspect of ‘shape’ and so children need to be exposed to an array of patterns, as how will they learn to make comparisons/differentiate between different patterns if they have limited exposure? We have created an interactive book full of a variety of different types of patterns and colours that children can access freely and discuss and explore.
In addition to well-stocked and mathematically challenging environment,there are also a vast range of activities and opportunities that we as practitioners and parents can do to support and develop children’s mathematical skills. For example;
- Number walks – looking for numbers in the environment, counting the number of a particular car/flower/object on a journey.
- Shape walks – looking for shapes in the environment, counting the number of a specific shape we find on a journey.
- Measuring opportunities – not necessarily with a ruler/measuring tool; use varying length ribbons/string/materials to measure objects around the setting.
- Number towers – use Duplo/Lego/bricks to build towers in ascending order from 1 – 10 (continue to develop higher if child’s age/stage allows)
- Number Lotto – not just for number recognition, but great for turn-taking/group games to.
- Small World and Outdoor ‘Car Parks – for small world play; place sticky labels on top of vehicles with numbers on, get a large piece of card and draw car parking spaces (large rectangles with numbers that correspond to the number of vehicles used) and encourage children to park their car in the corresponding space.
- Provide shaped ‘loose parts’ to allow children to experiment and create their own patterns, shapes and arrangements.
- Pouring their own drinks or serving food using mathematical language to describe if the cup is full, empty, or if a child wants more peas or less, or 1 more piece of bread etc.
- Ensure there are numerals on display throughout the setting/play space so children can become familiar with them and beginning to recognise and make reference to these in their play.
- A number line that has relevance to the children (using both words, numeral and marks to represent the corresponding number.) For example, a number line featuring the children or their favourite items so it holds significance for them.
For more information on how to promote and develop children’s mathematics skills, visit: