In Expert opinion, The Nursery

Each month, Jackie Hardie, owner of The Nursery, gives advice and guidance on aspects of parenting. Drawing on over twenty years experience working with early years children, including roles as a Reception teacher and an Ofsted inspector, running an international education consultancy, and of course, being a parent, Jackie gives down-to-earth and practical advice.

This month, Jackie focuses on children and maths.

Young children love maths. You can hear them counting in their play, using mathematical language such as billions and trillions and talking about quantities such as ginormous and teeny tiny. Moments such as these are not always recognised as maths, but simply children just playing. Research however suggests that very young children are far more mathematically able than we think and the formality of ‘school maths’ can hamper their mathematical development.

At The Nursery we try and make maths as real and fun as possible.  We develop number stories with our three to five-year-olds, allowing them to develop their mathematical understanding of early addition. We pick a number up to 10 and focus on that number for a whole week, which helps to cement the learning and gives children the time to explore the number story.


Choose six identical objects (oranges, spoons, teddies etc). Set up a minimum of two areas for the objects to be placed, for example, if you choose the theme of a teddy bears’ picnic, use two picnic rugs.  Ask your child to place the teddies around the rugs and ask how many teddies are on the first rug, support your child with counting – remember it is fun. The counting should be slow and encourage your child to point to each teddy as they count. As they finish counting repeat the amount such as: “four teddies on the rug”. Next ask how many teddies are on the second rug.  Again, encourage slow counting and repeat the amount.  Finish by saying: “So we have four teddies and two teddies, how many teddies are there altogether?”

Repeat the process as long as your child is engaged and interested.

It is important to recognise that at this stage it does not matter if children make mistakes with counting.  You need to ensure that it is fun and remember children learn by making mistakes. Do not be tempted to formalise this activity by writing out 4 + 2 = 6.  This is the end goal and some children may not be ready for this formality. For mathematical learning to be effective, it must be exciting, real and enjoyable.

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