By Trudi Fitzhenry and Karen Murphy, authors of the award-winning Time to… Featherstone Early Years series
Creating a positive maths mindset in young children is part of the reason for writing this book. As early educators we model many of the attitudes and beliefs that young children absorb. In our experience of supporting early years staff in a range of settings, many of the adults we work with have a deep reluctance to engage with maths based on their own unhappy experiences of the subject in the past. If we can offer ideas for making maths fun and remove some of the potential misconceptions held by maths-anxious adults then our youngest learners will benefit!
Having the confidence to play with maths concepts in an open way, without the fear of being ‘wrong’, is crucial. A fun way of introducing a maths problem is to allow the children to become the experts and you, as the adult, let their enquiries lead the learning. So if you are looking at the number 5, you might ask ‘What do you know about the number 5? Can anyone show me what 5 looks like?’ The children may place 5 objects together or may write the digit 5. They may draw 5 spots on a whiteboard or show you 5 fingers. All of the responses are welcomed and valued. Encourage further sharing of ideas by asking ‘What else can we do to show 5? Does anyone have another idea?’ Collect all of the children’s ideas and examples and create a book of 5, including songs and rhymes and simple calculations should these begin to appear.
Taking maths learning outside is a powerful way of engaging children both in the natural world around them and in the natural patterns that exist. Looking at flowers that grow around your setting allows children to compare petal shapes and quantities. They can ask their friends which colours they prefer and create a simple tally or chart. Collecting twigs, cones or leaves to use in a repeating pattern or as tools for counting or measuring engages the children in a worthwhile pursuit. Looking for the tallest sunflower or widest branch, or seeing who can make the longest daisy chain adds a sense of competition that young children love!
Our message is simple. If the children see us as adults engaging in exciting maths activities and hear us asking questions and following a simple line of enquiry, they will learn that curiosity is a good thing. If we share our misconceptions and how we have figured out a solution to a problem, they will learn that this is okay, too. With this kind of encouragement we can grow a new generation of maths-confident children and lose the all too common fear of maths that many adults share.