How do we develop exciting, enriched and positive mathematical activities?
As an international Foundation Stage (kindergarten) teacher working in Singapore, I am surrounded by dedicated professionals broadening young minds by installing childhood wonder, every day.
Recent research carried out by ‘nrich’ in 2015 questioned; ‘If we want to create more positive attitudes and higher achievement in mathematics, what better place to start than in the Early Years?’. This study details one of the constant challenges faced by Early Years educators – ‘How do we develop exciting, enriched and positive mathematical activities?’ It is often perceived that young mathematics is 1,2,3,4,5….of course it is, but it is so much more!
The findings outlined in the ‘nrich‘ study showed; ‘What is needed is a clear progression of ‘big ideas’ to develop number sense – giving guidance on what to look for and how to provide for it.’ This is supported by The National Council of Teachers in Mathematics (NCTM) who in October 2013 stated: ‘Young learners’ future understanding of mathematics requires an early foundation based on a high-quality, challenging, and accessible mathematics education.’
So what does this look like in practice? What is ‘number sense’ in the day to day classroom? What is a mathematically developed child? When looking around our 8 classes in the reception unit, the awe and wonder can be seen….but dig deeper and the mathematical magic is all around!
Big ideas in practice…
The above activity shows block play, large wooden blocks, being used independently within the classroom. If you were a visitor in this room, would this activity shout ‘maths’ to you? The children here are working collaboratively to create a helicopter. The skills needed to create such in-depth play include…team work, problem solving, positional language, awareness of shape and length, to name but a few. The NCTM state, ‘An engaging and encouraging climate for children’s early encounters with mathematics develops their confidence in their ability to understand and use mathematics.’ It is these open ended, child led, mathematical play opportunities that broaden thinking and challenge our mathematical brains. Similar can be seen in the map drawing activity below, the children are challenging their spatial awareness, predicting length and visually creating shapes. The open ended water tray activity can lead thinking beyond number, it is about challenge, problem solving….fun!
However, as educators, our desire to stretch children’s hypothesis, prove, dis-prove and enlighten them to new concepts is innate inside of us. This is the passion that starts each day. Myself and my foundation stage colleagues take great care, thought and often luck through accidental learning opportunities to ensure ‘mathematical encounters’ are regular in our practice.
Symmetrical Lego boards
Eggs in a row
It is through these activities, incidental or planned that mathematical readiness and the beginnings of ‘number sense’ evolves.