Numeracy exploration in the early years
Numeracy exploration in the early years

Young children are exposed to maths all the time through a wide variety of play experiences. From the time they are born, babies are surrounded by sense impressions. Shapes in particular are of immediate importance, babies react to the arrangements of shapes which make up the human face.

Early Childhood Education

Adults can provide materials and encouragement and open the door to new activities and learning. Play cannot be directed by adults. An adult can support, enhance or extend play, but the moment they interfere or dictate its progress then it ceases to be play.

At home, school and out in the wider environment children have many opportunities to enjoy and learn maths through play. Through different experiences children are exposed to maths without evening knowing; for example, when you are cooking with your children, they are hearing and seeing numbers, measurement and exploring size. Children are problem solving with puzzles, small world train tracks and numbers through role play.

Staff in the pre-school setting should seek to extend, informally, the mathematical experiences the children have already had in their home environment… All areas of indoor and outdoor play, everyday routines, songs, rhymes, jingles, stories and games provide opportunities to foster children’s understanding of mathematical concepts…

With the support from adults, children will begin to grasp the different mathematical concepts, such as:

  • know and understand early maths language of measurement, shapes, spaces, positions, early numbers, order and patterns
  • know the sequence of numbers
  • begin to understand positional words, e.g. in, on, outside
  • show an awareness of time
  • be aware of shapes in their environment
  • be aware of 1-to-1 correspondence
  • acquire new vocabulary
  • learn number rhymes and songs, e.g. one, two, buckle my shoe, etc.
  • be aware of conservation

Some examples of investigations into mathematical concepts that you can do at home are:

Sand and Water
  • Using sand can develop mathematical concepts and language, e.g. heavy, light, empty, full, big, little
  • Conservation - how much will it hold
  • Make shapes and patterns
  • Provide boxes and materials of different shapes and sizes to compare weight and quantity
  • Look at the differences between wet and dry as a means of looking at weights
  • You can help to promote mathematical language such as – heavy, light, empty, full, long, short, big, small in relevant contexts
  • Look at your home environment to develop language, especially positional words – small object in front of a big object, behind, in, on

The use of dough can help to develop a mathematical understanding for pre-school children.

  • Develops mathematical language – short, long, fat, thin
  • Make shapes of different dimensions - flat shapes, 3-dimensional shapes
  • Create opportunities to compare things that float with things that do not
Imaginative Play
  • Simple activities like letting your child set the table for dinner can help develop counting skills, e.g. getting out three pieces of cutlery.
  • Involve your child with household activities. After washing, allow your child to sort clothes into different colours, or different types of clothes, e.g. t-shirts and socks. This will help to develop a child’s knowledge of shapes and colours.
Books and Rhymes
  • Enjoy stories and rhymes with your child that has a mathematical element, e.g. “One-two, Buckle my Shoe”,
  • This can also help to develop literacy skills by showing your child that the print reads from left to right.
  • Let your child count out items in the books – how many animals are on the page, how many items are blue.
  • Using rhymes can also help develop your Child’s awareness of sequencing
Physical Play
  • Develop fine motor skills through physical activity, e.g. Sorting out a jigsaw, Threading beads
  • Block play or playing with toy cars can help to develop sequencing by encouraging your child to sequence according to size, colour, use (e.g. bike, car, truck)
  • Playing with different sized blocks can help to develop an understanding of weight and dimensions.
  • Tidying toys away allows children to sort into different sizes and colours.
  • It can also develop mathematical language - first, second, third, how many are blue, which is the largest / smallest.
Nature and the wider environment
  • By planting seeds you can help to develop your child’s understanding of time and the life cycle of plants.
  • Watch as the plants grow and even measure your plant – develop language such as taller.
  • Teach your child about the different seasons and plant different items at different times of the year to compare colours, flowers, smells.