Learning Through Play. Continuous Provision – Maths

Learning happens as children explore the world. Our continuous provision supports children’s curiosity and natural learning instincts by allowing them to choose to play with the things that interest them, engage them and allow them to have agency over their time.

Development can only take place when children are actively involved, when they are occupied with a high, non-stop degree of concentration, when they are interested, when they give themselves completely. – Ferre Laevers

Water play and sand play are two examples of continuous provision supporting children’s mathematical skills. At Willow Cottage we know how popular both these provisions are with many of our children of all ages. In order for children to truly get to grips with a learning opportunity they need to be able to explore it for themselves, repeatedly, on their own terms.

Example 1. A child is engaged in the water play area, they have spent 10 minutes using a cup to pour water into a bucket and back again from the bucket to the cup. Their brain is exploring capacity, numeracy, spatial awareness as well as wondering why the bucket needs several cups to fill it until it overflows yet the bucket has too much water to fit into the cup? How many cups does it take to fill the bucket? On the resources shelf there is a pipette which the child adds to the water tray and starts to fill the cup with water from the pipette until it is full. They then start to fill the bucket, this takes a very long time and soon the child pours the water from the cup into the bucket.

Maths for babies and toddlers does not begin with numbers and counting, although they do have a natural interest in quantities and spatial relations – they are problem solvers, pattern-spotters and sense-makers from birth. – Birth to 5 Matters 2021

Babies and young children are constantly exploring mathematical concepts and schematic patterns of thinking through interests such as trajectories and transporting. They are frequently engaging in learning about shape, space and measure through physical play. Over time they gradually get to grips with concepts on length, distance, spatial awareness, speed, motion, direction, time, pattern, order, angles, sequencing and weight. (Chilvers 2021)

Example 2. A baby playing with a sensory basket drops a wooden sphere and it rolls across the floor out of reach. They then pick up a metal cube and mouth it but drop this object also, however the cube does not roll. As this play is repeated, and the same consequences occur each time, the baby begins to decipher the different properties of each object and the potential reasons behind their actions.

Example 3. A toddler is constructing with wooden objects of various shapes. At the bottom of the construction she has used straight sided shapes and it stands strong, the next object to be placed is an oval, which rolls right off the top. Through repetition and critical thinking toddlers begin to learn that certain shapes are more useful than others when you have a particular task you would like to achieve.

These ideas, principles and rules contribute to a child’s understanding of maths throughout the Early Years. Children are encouraged to test their theories, predict what might happen and, above all, make mistakes. Using children’s interests means that children are more likely to persevere when they meet an obstacle. The continuous provisions provide opportunities for children to create their own challenges and, with the assistance of their peers and practitioners, become resilient learners who enjoy the process, even if at first they don’t succeed.

Maths has been traditionally focussed on numbers and counting and whilst this is a part of mathematical learning it should not be the main focus. Shape, space and measure is an important part of mathematical development in early years. Children are encouraged to develop a deep understanding of numbers to 10 through being allowed to experience numbers in a variety of different ways.

The loose parts that are accessed by the children come in a variety of shapes, sizes and compositions. From babies to pre-schoolers the children are exploring number and counting, alongside shape space and measure, in their play. How many pasta shapes can go in this cup? How many scoops of leaves will empty the bowl? If I stand this box on this block how many can I count to before it falls?

Right from when they are babies children are hearing and experiencing numbers. They hold 2 pigs, one in each hand, there were 3 children eating snack, we have 4 bikes but only 3 children are using them them so there is one left. Whilst the children are unlikely to be able to express these mathematical principles verbally they are able to explore and build on their knowledge through observation, listening and experimentation.

Childhood is not a race to see how quickly a child can read, write and count. It is a small window of time to learn and develop at the pace that is right for each individual child. Earlier is not better. – Magda Gerber

Continuous provision ensures that the children are exposed to rich mathematical opportunities and allowed the freedom and space to begin to learn on their own terms and it is a vital part of our resourcing. Of course the practitioners enhance the learning that is experienced by observing play and knowing when it may be helpful to step in and when it is better to let the children work things out for themselves. The key to great mathematical continuous provision is knowing our children and using that knowledge to enhance and resource the areas as needed. At Willow Cottage we are continually striving to ensure we know our children to the very highest standard and are therefore best placed to support their learning however they may choose to pursue it.

Next time….
Learning Through Play. Continuous Provision – Literacy