The Independent Review ofMathematics in Early Years Settings and Primary schools argue that, “EarlyYears settings should ensure that sufficient time is given to mathematicaldiscussion around practical activities such as play with vehicles outsideetc. To be effective, mathematicallearning for children in this age group needs to be predominantly social innature and rooted in play.
” (DCSF 2008: 36). Rodgers and Yee (2015) explainthis type of play as one where a child explores a range of ideas in apleasurable way. Vygotsky (1978), explains that because of the meaningfulcontext in which it happens, play provides a “zone of proximal development” inwhich learning occurs.
This zonerepresents the difference between what the child knows and what the child canlearn with assistance of a ‘more knowledgeable other.’ This social interaction during play helpschildren to make meaning from shared experiences. Supporting this, Bruner(1991) defines play as a vehicle for socialization and sees the practitioner assomeone who can support the child’s learning through scaffolding. This is aprocess in which an adult helps a child in a structured way in order to achievea specific goal (Lytle 2003).
Where mathematics isembedded in play, play continues spontaneously. Sometimes it continues over areading book activity, sometimes with a block play, etc. Children carry overtheir daily mathematics into their plays (Özdogan 2011). It provides anon-threatening context where incorrect answers are not perceived as mistakesbut as solutions that might lead to a better understanding of the aspects ofMathematics to which they relate (Holton et al 2001).Wright (2008), states thatthe early number knowledge is believed to provide a key foundation for basicarithmetic learning.
He argues that number learning continues to hold a centraland key position in the early years of school. Hughes (1986) emphasized thepropensity of young children to formulate symbols to help them recall numbers.The outcome of his work revealed clear evidence that children can representsmall numbers in ways they can remember if given meaningful situations orcontexts. Piaget (1978), goes on to explain that children conserve if they recognise that equivalence of twocollections through counting, is not affected by a rearrangement of one of thesets. He explained that conservation occurs whenthe number of elements in a collection remains unchanged even though they arespaced out (Meggitt 2007). Piaget (1978) believed that children generally donot develop this awareness before the age of six or seven and concluded thatthey had to grasp the principle of conservation of quantity before they coulddevelop the concept of number. Munn (1994), argues thatpre-school children do not seem to have much understanding in the adult purposeof counting which is usually to find the total of items.
She also argues thatcounting in early years is extensively a derivative social practice rather thana work carried out with awareness. She therefore suggested that teachers shouldcheck children’s beliefs about counting before engaging them in number works orcomparing quantities. Fuson (1988) wrote a detailed account of early numberconcepts development from two perspectives: pre-school and school-age children respectively. She stated thatchildren learn to say number word sequence first by imitating the string ofwords and later learn the appropriate contexts for counting. Children thenstart to co-ordinate pointing, objects and number words.
Finally, childrenmerge counting and cardinality, they start applying their counting to addressquestions relating to finding totals. Practitioners must supportchildren’s learning with their personal interests and cultural background inmind. Teachers valuing and understanding children’s home experience help themto build upon existing knowledge (Carruthers and Butcher, 2013). According to EYFS (2017),mathematics is about offering children opportunities to improve their skills incounting, understanding and using numbers, calculating simple addition andsubtraction problems; and to describe shapes, spaces and measure.Based on the aboveliterature, it can be inferred that play is significant towards a child’s mathematics and number knowledgein an early years setting. It can also be assumed that although play issignificant, support from a practitioner or a knowledgeable other could help achild achieve specific goals centred on the child’s mathematics and numberknowledge. Therefore where play occurs and it is led by a knowledgeable other;the focus is not on the child obtaining the correct answer based on theaforementioned age but understanding the basic principle which would serve asthe essential platform needed towards obtaining a future specific goal. Hence,a child in early years might be able to say their numbers but might not beaware of what it means nonetheless; it is the availability of a knowledgeableother that will help encourage the child to focus on numbers thereby makingsense of it.
It can be concluded from the above literature that children explore mathematics and numberknowledge in early years through own play and adult led activities. Hencesatisfying the first objective set out in this research.Vygotsky’s(1978) argument about the present of a knowledgeable other has influenced me ina new way not only in terms of working with the children, but also working withthe adults in the capacity of a mentor and a coach.SinceI have had the training coupled with some professional reading, there has beena inner urge to be an agent of change in an early years setting. Through closeobservations I discovered the nursery is not doing very well in their mathspractice and require an intervention.