So this is what comes before counting

    Published: 05 October 2018

    You may remember hearing about our collaborative pilot, in an earlier blog: ”Ever thought about what comes before counting?” The Early Years and Mathematics teams at Herts for Learning have been working together to produce some user friendly materials, practical ideas and activities to help practitioners in mathematical provision for 2 years old upwards in the Early Years foundation stage.


    From the outset we knew we needed to explore the mathematical learning that comes before the memorisation of number labels and numerals in a way that would help all adults working with young learners to build broad and deep understanding of number and the pilot quickly showed us that other aspects of mathematical learning needed to play their part. Early skills need to be embedded from the beginning and the practitioners in the pilot told us that breaking up the curriculum into these four simple areas allowed them to plan for and improve the provision with improved opportunities and greater consistency. They were able to use the criteria to plan and assess in a much more focused way and gained confidence from the detailed progression included.

    When we began to explore early experiences in pattern, for example, we quickly realised that there are mathematical opportunities everywhere and the focus of the project became making the most of these opportunities through guided talking and enriched experiences for the children.

    Just by focussing precisely on the skills we were trying to build and understanding how they contribute to mathematical thinking we were able to make the children’s learning richer with very simple changes and highly structured language.

    Having explored their effect on practice in different settings and not just schools we became convinced that our four skills were aiming at the right areas of learning for the children and the adults we were working with were growing in confidence at such speed. By deepening the children’s understanding of pattern, comparison, classification and group recognition (or subitising) we were bringing a sense of number with understanding and purpose to their mathematical learning.

    Imagine our delight then when we saw the proposed changes in the Early Learning Goals, published in June by the DfE in preparation for the pilot in September 2018:

    Children are not asked to “count reliably numbers 1 to 20…” anymore but to:

    “Have an understanding of number to 10, linking names, numerals their value and their position in the counting order”  - Yes! It’s all about the value behind the numerals at last.

    “Subitise (recognise quantities without counting) up to 5” - Well we certainly thought this was important enough for its own booklet!

    “Explore patterns of numbers within numbers up to 10…” and the list goes on.

    We began to think there was a DfE mole in the room when we were creating these resources!

    So the final product is a five book box set of ideas and activities that allows practitioners to organise and implement the criteria provided to plot progress. Access them first to find ideas to support provision and then use the guidance for the adult talk and the child talk to establish a shared understanding of expectations across the team. Our pilot showed that this really helped in firstly the frequency of the children’s rehearsals – because the language was much more consistent across the adult team and the children became well-rehearsed in the shared models – and secondly the impact of the changes made in provision because of the consistency across detailed criteria that can show the evidence of children’s progress clearly.

    The success of the pilot was undoubtedly the simplicity of the adaptations made that clarified and organised the children’s achievements. Practice changed quickly and effectively to everybody’s delight and the children were re-engaged in their mathematical learning equipped with the language to ask and respond to questions with enthusiasm and confidence.

    View the essential guide for ensuring the foundations for counting are embedded throughout your EYFS provision:

    Essential foundations for counting


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