Maths and Numeracy are a key component of Early Years Education. They equip children with fundamental skills that will assist them not only in their further education but also in their personal, civic and professional life.
What is Mathematical Education?
Mathematical Education goes far beyond numerical operations and from the very early days of the Foundation Stage it helps children understand the world around. Thanks to developing mathematical skills such as reasoning and problem solving, children will be able to investigate and interpret situations around them, solve the problems that are meaningful to them, communicate their reasoning about the world, understand and predict changes, compare and contrast objects and phenomena. Mathematical Education will also help children relate to other disciplines such as Science, History and Geography in a meaningful way. They will be able to apply their knowledge and skills to understand historical timelines and consequences of events from local and world history, organise and interpret scientific data and make informed decisions about the solutions related to ecology and sustainability. Apart from that, starting mathematical education at an early stage of children’s education facilitates multi-cultural understanding as children will learn how modern society approaches numeracy, what tools and concepts it uses, and how these tools and concepts can be effectively adapted to further benefits. Mathematical education is also linked to design, money, health and technology, with the latter being the fastest developing area of education.
Mathematical Learning at Foundation Stage
At the Foundation Stage children are introduced to mathematical concepts in a way that best relates to their stage of development and their capacity. Children at this stage start to develop a sense of numbers, orders, sequences and patterns, and learn about the properties and characteristics of objects. Noticing details about the environment and the world around comes more naturally and at this stage children will be able to compare things, explain what certain objects have in common, and what makes them different. Early Mathematical Education supports further development of children’s ability to recognise and understand patterns and sequences. Children will learn about the attributes of things and collections, about movement and direction. They will gain awareness of mass, length and capacity, and will be able to order events and situations.
Why copying patterns is important?
Repeating patterns is a skill that we focus on during the Foundation Stage as it provides solid grounds for further development of mathematical skills. Organising objects into groups and patterns is one of children’s favourite activities. Working with patterns begins with drawing children’s attention to differences and similarities between things, objects and phenomena. Children will be able to copy a pattern once they are able to distinguish between objects. Copying patterns provides a basis for comparing things in terms of their mass, length, colour, size, shape and other characteristics. Repeating patterns means a child is able to copy exactly the same pattern again. This can be a line of colourful beads that we ask a child to form, a sequence of shapes or numbers to copy, write or draw, or a line of toy animal figures of different types and sizes. When a child works on copying a pattern, they focus on the object characteristics and pick the correct object out of the group of other similar objects. When the objects have the same colour, then it is the shapes or sizes that a child needs to focus on. When the objects belong to the same group, for example they are all animals, a child needs to be able to distinguish among them by carefully studying their details.
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Patterns and mark making
To copy a pattern by drawing or writing it a child needs to observe all details of the letter, shape or object presented to them and then copy the pattern in an appropriate sequence. Apart from practicing their observational and reasoning skills, they also practice mark making which is an introduction to writing letters and numbers.
Patterns and predicting changes
As soon as children master copying patterns, they are ready to start predicting the sequence. This is why copying patterns provides grounds for the development of mathematical skills such as continuing patterns and forming sequences. Although it starts with predicting the objects that form a sequence, eventually the child will be able to predict the probability of things occurring around them. In the beginning, the practical applications of being able to recognise, copy and continue patterns will mainly relate to weather predictions, seasonal changes, natural phenomena such as sunsets and tides, and physiology such as digestion.
The way children naturally learn about patterns
One of the most important priorities for Maths Teachers is that children become creative and confident users of mathematical skills. For this to achieve, the teaching and learning processes need to be meaningful, enjoyable and engaging as children learn by doing and experiencing the world. Children enjoy creating their own collections of small objects, they arrange them the way they personally find most appealing, interesting and meaningful. Collecting objects, studying them, comparing and finally sorting them help children understand the world better. When children study their collections they pay special attention to details, and discover and investigate further how things are different and what they have in common. This in turn helps to bring about their first mathematical questions about the world..
How to introduce children to Repeating Patterns
It is recommended that teachers plan engaging and enjoyable experiences for children in order to help them become confident and creative users of mathematical skills. The more personalised the experiences and activities are, the more children will be able to relate their learning to their personal life.
An example of good practice is offering children opportunities to work with the patterns that occur around them naturally, and using everyday objects such as shells, fruit, pebbles or seeds. Making activities more multi-sensory will appeal to all children as full use of senses is the way they learn best. Working with the objects that are interesting to touch, are full of details and have textures that can be sensed and studied with fingers, are of vivid colours or patterns will make learning more attractive and meaningful.
Copying patterns is not only arranging objects in lines. It can also involve working with the rhythm, sound and music. Following rhythmic patterns and repeating them is too part of mathematical education related to a pattern recognition. Children can also be effectively introduced to patterns by means of creative arts & crafts activities. Decorating walls, pots, sandwiches and other every day objects with patterns of their choice will help children express themselves creatively, make learning more personalised and therefore facilitate their recognition of patterns.
Developing the awareness of patterns, recognising them and being able to copy them is an important part of Early Mathematical Education as these skills prepare children to understand more complex ideas and concepts related to algebraic, statistical and multiplicative thinking that will develop in subsequent years. By offering children motivating, meaningful and enjoyable experiences we will help them become creative, independent and motivated users of their mathematical skills.
Vito Matt (MA Edu) – Curriculum Developer and Instructional Designer
Why Early Mathematical Education is important
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