Teaching & Learning Early Years Mathematics Extract 2

Here is the second extract from our new title Teaching and Learning Early Years Mathematics by Mary Briggs. This extract is taken from Chapter 2: To Infinity and Beyond.

Writing numerals

In different countries the need for children to write down numerals and the age at which they are expected to do so varies. In Norway children attend kindergarten until the age of six, when they start school. They are not asked to write down numerals or to practise writing them. If children want to write numerals and ask to be shown how, then adults will facilitate this learning, but there is no pressure to do formal recording of any sort. By contrast, in China, perhaps as a by-product of having a language that is not phonically based, much of the early learning in nursery schools is by rote, through practising skills over and over again until children have memorised the skill and can write without hesitation. Children in China are taught how to record numbers early and are expected to practise writing numbers in the same way as they practise writing the language. For homework they are often given pages of repetitive exercises in writing numbers and letters. In the UK, pressures are returning to the mathematics curriculum at all levels for early recording and more learning of facts by rote.

Critical question
» Review the current expectation for mathematics recording in the Early Years. How does this compare with the international perspectives? Which approach do you feel is the most appropriate and why?

Expectations for mathematics recording are likely to change continually. But what is always important is children’s understanding of what they commit to memory. Committing facts to memory can help to develop speed and efficiency in mathematics,  but knowledge without understanding is not conducive to future development. For example, if a child knows the times tables but does not understand the underlying principles, it can actually be a barrier to future mathematical  learning.


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