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Mathematics in the Early Years

Mathematics has been long regarded an important part of Early Childhood pedagogy. Since Friedrich Frobel founded the first kindergarten in 1837, he developed his ‘Spielgaben’ or ‘Gifts’ that embraced mathematical concepts of symmetry, shape and number. The series of gifts were the first ‘educational’ playthings and are made of natural materials and are open-ended, specifically designed to demonstrate the key concept of ‘unity’ that can be recognised in play.

Changes in time and pedagogies have seen early childhood educators teach mathematics through a range of methods. In more recent times, mathematics has been cast into the spotlight and there has been increasing pressure for more explicit teaching, however early educators are resistant to this approach, knowing the value of play-based approach to teaching and learning. The evidence is insurmountable that a play-based approach benefits all children regardless of their mathematical competency, which supports early educators own beliefs due to the appropriateness of pedagogical approaches (Thiel & Perry, 2018).

Children begin learning mathematical concepts from a very early age as they communicate with other children and adults, play with a range of resources and interact their natural environment. Spontaneous and indirect learning opportunities can occur in everyday interactions at home through shopping, cooking, bath-time and routine times. Within the early childhood setting, educators need to combine play-based learning opportunities with purposefully planned intentional teaching experiences to optimise mathematical learning across a range of numeracy concepts.

Utilising language that positions objects, describes shape, makes comparisons, classifies objects, estimates volume and identifies number patterns extends upon children’s existing knowledge and starts developing early concepts of number, measurement and space.

With the increase of STEAM-based experiences we are seeing mathematics linked closely with science and engineering through inquiry-based projects. The integration of each domain in a project can be beneficial for a more holistic approach to children’s learning and teachers can make meaningful connections to numeracy concepts through thoughtful planning.

Focusing on opportunities to teach mathematics through STEAM experiences, arts-based pedagogies and intentional teaching will strengthen children’s knowledge and understanding of number concepts, ultimately providing them with greater opportunity for high achievement in their futures.

Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR). (2009). Belonging, being and becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia. Canberra: Australian Government.
Thiel, O. & Perry, B. (2018). Innovative approaches in early childhood mathematics. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal, 26:4, 463-468, DOI:10.1080/1350293X.2018.1489173


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