The latest research is indicating that having strong Math skills in the Early Years is the strongest predictor of later academic achievement. “… early knowledge of reading predicted later success in reading. However, early knowledge of mathematics was a stronger predictor of later success in mathematics. Further, early knowledge of mathematics predicted not only success in math, but also success in reading.” (Clements and Sarama, Learning and Teaching Early Math p. 214) So we want to ensure that our young students receive a strong and solid mathematics education not only to achieve in mathematics but to achieve in all academic areas.
The research and our own experience in the classroom have taught us that there must be a balance between learning through Play and Planned Instruction. Clements and Sarama talk about play that involves mathematics and playing with mathematics itself .
Research shows that children engage in some type of mathematical thinking during approximately 43% of their time playing.(Ginsberg et al (1999) Young Children Doing Mathematics: Observations of Everyday Activities.) This is good news for play-based educators because it allows us to intentionally plan centres/areas for mathematical learning through play and to scaffold and extend mathematical learning during play. However, to effectively provide the depth of learning that is required we have found that it is necessary to also plan instruction for various sized groups. We recommend the book Learning and Teaching Early Math – the Learning Trajectories Approach by Douglas H. Clements and Julie Sarama. The trajectories approach aids the educators in ascertaining where the individual children are in their learning and provides instructional tasks to dig deeper and extend learning in a playful way. We have also found it helpful for providing concepts, strategies, and other knowledge that young children need to learn effectively. The last few chapters deliver thought provoking discussion about pedagogical issues and curricula. This is a complex book but is well worth the read.
Below are two links, the first to a Capacity Building Series monograph on Math in the Early Years and the second to several clips of Douglas Clements speaking about Math in the Early Years including the value of Play.