Maureen Hunt, Achievement for All
The primary maths curriculum makes significant demands on children, and their teachers, to reach new targets in terms of maths knowledge and skills. This can sometimes lead to an over emphasis on number facts and pre-prescribed methods of recording, with insufficient attention paid to the understanding and application of maths as a way of making sense of the world.
We hear a lot about the gap in language that exists between low income children and their more affluent peers, but this gap is the same for maths, as children who are lacking in knowledge and wider experiences are significantly disadvantaged when it comes to their mathematical understanding.
Living in a mathematical world, very young children are curious about their surroundings. They have not yet learned to distinguish what is mathematical, they want to make sense, explore, question and manipulate. It is this foundation that will help them to understand the more formal operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division later on. For example they instinctively gain spatial awareness, understanding when objects are too large, the right shape, or too heavy. They know when to duck their head down when playing under the table, they select the toy that fits the push cart and will order containers by size to make a tower. They will experiment without fear, adapting their approach in order to find solutions until they achieve success or they may walk away to return to the problem at a later date.
The Ofsted report Good practice in Primary mathematics,(2011) promotes practical hands on experience for children and the need to give them plenty of opportunity to develop their mathematical vocabulary and express their thinking if they are to be able to develop more abstract thinking around number later on.
The Achievement for All, Achieving Early programme has a module called ‘Magical Maths’, which explores how to make maths fun and meaningful for every child. It explores some of the issues around attitudes and value we place on maths in our society and provides real examples of how to close the gap for children who are disadvantaged due to lack of experience in their early years by generating opportunities for those experiences to happen.