Children are surprisingly motivated and able to engage in mathematical thinking and problem-solving before they begin formal schooling and are thought to understand some mathematical concepts intuitively from birth.
From a very young age, children can show an interest and engage in foundational mathematical thinking. This includes numeracy skills such as relative magnitude and basic arithmetical understanding, spatial skills such as an interest in building and shapes, and pattern skills such as recognising and extending sequences.
Supporting children to explore and develop their understanding of foundational maths skills involving numeracy, patterns and spatial understanding can facilitate their ongoing learning in maths. Numeral knowledge, which links children’s knowledge of quantities with their symbolic representations and tends to develop as children approach the age of five, is also predictive of children’s success in mathematics in early to late primary school.
There is a growing body of evidence to demonstrate both the kinds of mathematical thinking that young children are able and motivated to engage in, and the relationship between the development of certain early mathematical skills and knowledge and later maths achievement.
Early childhood teachers can notice and respond to children’s emerging interest in and understanding of maths by supporting them to further develop those interests and understandings through a combination of free play and guided play techniques such as games. By being aware of the foundational maths skills that children are ready to learn and demonstrate in early childhood, teachers can recognise when children are practising those skills on their own during play, and intentionally design and incorporate ways to support and develop these skills into the curriculum.
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