Early Numeracy Development

Most young children come to school already knowing a great deal about mathematics. Children bring with them an intuitive knowledge of mathematics, which they have developed through curiosity about their physical world and through real-life experiences. For example, they bring conceptual understanding from their daily experiences with manipulating objects (e.g., fitting different sizes and shapes of a construction toy together), making comparisons (e.g., “I’m taller than you”), making observations (e.g., “This bag is really heavy”), and asking questions (e.g., “Who is taller?” “Who has more cookies?” “How big is it?”). Teachers should use this prior knowledge as a starting point in developing the critical foundational learning of mathematical principles and concepts that supports achievement in mathematics in later years.

 It could also be said that, upon entering school, most children are interested in learning to persist, to try something new, and generally to engage in problem solving. The teacher plays acritical role in fostering a positive attitude towards mathematics by valuing a child’s early attempts at problem solving, by sharing and celebrating the child’s learning, and by encouraging in each child a love of mathematics.

Learning in mathematics is no different from learning in other areas of the program in that young children learn best through experiences that are connected and integrated. Children are more motivated to solve problems when the problems are the real-life problems of the classroom.

Developmental Aspects of Learning Mathematics

When planning learning experiences, teachers consider children’s cognitive, linguistic, physical, social, and emotional development. The most successful learning takes place when the we plan mathematical experiences that are based on an understanding of the child’s total development. The child needs to have the cognitive ability to do the mathematical activity; needs to be able to understand the language of instruction, including the mathematical vocabulary; needs to have sufficient fine-motor control to manipulate the materials; and needs to be emotionally mature enough to deal with the demands of the activity so that frustration does not set in.

Since all children will demonstrate a developmental progression in the understanding of foundational mathematical concepts, we assess the level of development of each child, plan activities that are appropriate for that child, and decide when and how to intervene if the child has difficulties solving a problem.

Strategies for Developing a whole batch of Mathematics Learners

When planning for effective learning experiences in mathematics, teachers include a balance of the following elements: activating prior knowledge, engaging in the mathematics, reflecting on the process, and celebrating children’s learning. Teachers begin a learning experience by encouraging children to use their prior knowledge to solve a problem. By observing how the children proceed, teachers gain insight into what the children already know, and can plan further learning experiences to ensure that the children will have the necessary tools to develop an understanding of the concept being investigated. For Kindergarten children, these learning experiences may include reading a story or poem that explores a mathematical concept, asking questions, engaging in problem solving as a group, or dramatizing a number poem or story.

For Kindergarten children, learning experiences should be hands-on and embedded in a context that is of interest to the children. Children need to be able to explore and investigate materials and concepts in concrete ways. Individual learning is supported and extended by both the teacher and peers. Children are encouraged to reason, investigate ideas, extend understanding, reflect, and make generalizations. They are also encouraged to begin to represent their mathematical understandings in ways that are meaningful to them. Some children may begin to represent their thinking on paper, often using pictures and/or numbers and some words; others may use concrete materials. Generic worksheets, however, is used with caution; they are rarely effective because their focus is narrow and they provide only limited assessment information on the children’s level of understanding.

Activities are openended so that the children can demonstrate their understanding of a concept in a variety of ways. Some children, for example, demonstrate their understanding of the concept of pattern by creating a pattern, but they may not be able to explain the pattern. Some children may sort the zoo animals according to type, but may need the teacher’s guidance to articulate their sorting rule; others may be able to sort in multiple ways and explain their reasoning. In all cases, however, children need to be engaged in doing mathematics, talking about it, listening to others talk, and showing their results and solutions.

Young children have the curiosity and the capability to engage in mathematical thinking and learning. Reflecting on their experiences enables children to consolidate learning. Children need to experience mathematics concepts in depth through revisiting and repeating investigations over a long period of time. This repetition also allows teachers an opportunity to identify gaps in children’s learning and provide additional support. Teachers help children develop and consolidate their understanding through talking, sharing approaches, and celebrating successes, and by encouraging children to demonstrate, describe, and explain, as well as to make connections and identify relationships.

Teachers create an effective environment to support young children’s learning of mathematics by planning daily hands-on experiences that focus on a particular mathematical concept and by identifying and embedding significant mathematics learning experiences in play, daily routines, and classroom experiences.