Over the past few months I have become increasing involved in helping practitioners to deliver maths in their settings and in delivering the training my passion for early maths has grown even stronger. Yet what people seem to forget is that within the statutory framework for early years it does not say " your child will "write " numbers and sums ". There is a precieved need to have numerals everywhere as a means of getting children to "do maths" and yet numerals are such a small part of what maths is all about and hence a rethink of how we deliver mathematics may be needed.
In my opinion, the reason why we teach maths in the first place (and writing and reading too!!) is to prepare our children for the work outside of our settings - not to be able to pass a test or reproduce written sums by mechanical means. Maths by its very nature is all around us in the real world, it is central to how we spend our money, how we fill up our cars with petrol, how much shopping we buy, how much water we put in our tea pots, how many socks we put on with our shoes and even how we plan our tv programmes in an evening! Maths is everywhere!!
With this in mind we, as teaching practioners, need to look for the maths in everything our children do and bring it to their attention as they play and explore; making maths make more sense and helping them to see the usefulness of it in their lives. How do we do this ? We talk to them using the language of maths!
Early childhood is such an amazing window of opportunity to absorb new language and to apply this to real life and maths language is no different. When a child explores making tea and cakes in your mud kitchen look for the chance to talk about full, empty, one more spoon full of sugar or double the amount of plates. Talk about bigger and smaller as you roll tyres down a slope and use the language of length as you explore long and even longer worms from the garden.
Key to delivering the language of maths is knowing the language of maths yourself, so you and your colleagues are comfortable with the terminology and open to spotting opportunities within play both indoors and out. As deliverers of words we need to stock up on our own knowledge and understanding and break down the elements of EYFS into chunks of talk. As a supporting document Development Matters and Early Years Outcomes contain much useful information - yet when it comes to maths lanaguge they are surprisingly lacking. A little bit of brain storming is required to unpick the language of maths and make sure it is central to your ongoing delivery. As a team try sitting down and agreeing what language you expect for capacity exploration - make a list to include full, empty, more, less, etc. and ensure you seek out the opportunities to use it. Decide what language you want to use for weight, length, time, money, pattern, shape, counting, matching, sorting and number (different to numerals!) and go out searching for it in your play.
Once you have agreed your language delivery take a step back and watch for the chance to use it. Enable your environments with lots and lots of open ended opportunities to explore and play. Give children loads of chances to be curious, to ask questions and develop their own interests and ideas and you will soon begin to realise that maths is happening all around you and your key to unlocking their understanding lies in your ability to explore the lanaguage of maths with them as they play.
No child ever stopped playing with their peppa pig picnic or their magic potion mixing to look up and "learn" the numerals on a laminated numberline - search out the maths in what the children are doing by choice and the undertsanding will come hand in hand. But remember maths understanding, much like all learning, does not happen just because a child tries it once - ideas need to visited and revisited in lots of different ways if children are to be able to not only regurgitate maths but actually understand it!
Oh! and I havent forgotten numerals !! I just urge you to do what it actually says in the EYFS and make them "significant " to the children in your care. Look at what numbers children come into contact with in their lives and replicate in your setting. Numerals are actually everywhere too - on buses, door numbers, remote controls, phones, clocks, scales and tape measures as well as page numbers, till receipts, birthday cards and recipes - you just have to look a little closer and step away from the laminator!!