Here is the third of four extracts from our new title Teaching and Learning Early Years Mathematics: Pedagogy and Subject Knowledge by Mary Briggs. This extract is from Chapter 4: Are we nearly there yet?
Young children’s experiences with measures
Young children explore measures initially through comparison, using themselves as a key point of reference – Am I taller than X? Am I younger than Y? As with other areas of mathematical development, children start with the world closest to them and their experiences, before moving on to a wider range of experiences. The natural movements that young children make help them to explore objects in the space around them – How far can I stretch? Can I reach that toy? This includes exploring their own bodies – Can I fi t my fingers into my mouth? What about a whole hand? Funny as this might sound, such explorations help children’s very early understanding of shape, space and measures, and this, in turn, is closely linked to early development of scientific knowledge. By combining visual experiences with physical movements and touch, children develop their spatial knowledge. They then move on to explore play schemas such as enveloping or enclosing/containing. In enveloping play, children cover things and so need to make decisions, for example, about the size of material needed to cover the items. Enclosing/containing play might involve estimating the amount of something that could be held in a hand or in a selected container.
How children learn about measures
Children need to explore the extent of any measure, that is, where it starts and finishes. For example, they need to know that the length of a toy snake starts at its head and finishes at the end of its tail. They can then compare this specific snake’s length with the lengths of
other snakes. From making such comparisons children can move on to measuring with units, which initially may be non-standard units such as bricks of different sizes laid along the snake’s length. Then children move from using non-standard or arbitrary units of measurement towards understanding why there is a need for standardised units. This step requires careful discussion with children so that they appreciate the reason for having standardised measures. After this comes the choice of the most appropriate measuring instrument for each particular situation, and then children need to repeat its use to gain the skill of accurate measuring. The final step is developing the skill of estimation. For children to be able to estimate, they first need to have a sound understanding of the measure being employed.