By the age of three our children get to be the most wonderful storytellers. They engage in so-called “open ended” activities inspired by the stories we share with them. They learn how to use story props, how to pretend that story-related objects are integrated with their very own experiences. They take roles in their play and are completely immersed in stories, energised and fascinated by them. They become creators by changing parts of the story and making new versions. This is what “active learning” is all about, and it’s learning at its best.
Can mathematics be taught at an early age? Is it beneficial to do so? What sort of mathematics can be taught in the 3-5 year old age group?
In this blog post we will answer these questions (and, as a sneak peak, here are the short answers: Yes, Yes, and Pretty Advanced Stuff, as it turns out!)
Mathematics can indeed be taught at an early age and it is beneficial to do so for at least two reasons: first, it helps put in place the fundamental mathematical concepts, which will carry a child’s understanding of the subject through primary school and beyond; and second, it introduces the topic without cumbersome tasks that tend to tire children and possibly dissuade them from taking up mathematics later on.
The prevailing wisdom among parents and early years professionals is that early math should begin with numbers and counting, starting with small numbers up to 5 and slowly introducing bigger numbers, before moving on to addition and eventually subtraction (in primary school). Multiplication and division are more advanced operations that are taught only in primary school. All through this linear progression from one task to the next, there is a strong focus on calculation. As a result, central concepts of mathematics, such as functions and variables, limits and symmetry, are typically introduced in high school. However, these very concepts are the ones that mathematicians identify as their true “tools of the trade”. The ability to memorize a multiplication table, by comparison, is only marginally useful.
There are a number of established educational approaches in the early years sector and, even though there are many differences between them, they all share the same simple goal: to help every child fulfil his or her potential.
The main differences between these approaches lie in the fact that they use different methodologies, all of which are recognised by Ofsted and form part of the Early Years Foundation Stage framework. The Montessori approach, for instance, puts at its centre a child’s independence in learning and development, while the Reggio Emilia approach focuses on how the environment can act as a ‘third teacher’.
In this post we will navigate through the core approaches and explain, in simple terms, how we combine their best elements into a unique hybrid approach which is followed here at Alphablocks Nursery School & Pre-Prep, a boutique nursery in the heart of Hadley Wood village, serving the local communities of Barnet, Enfield and parts of Hertfordshire.
A recent report by Ofsted produced a good practice survey to address the recurring myth that teaching and play are separate activities in the early years education sector.
Inspectors visited a sample of the most successful early years providers to observe the interplay between teaching and play. All providers were selected because they were successful in achieving good or better outcomes for children.
You can read the full report here: Teaching and play in the early years: a balancing act
Alphablocks Nursery School in Hadley Wood empowers children to become confident learners through a balanced combination of hybrid teaching methods and play.