Supporting Early Mathematical Development: Practical Approaches to Play-Based Learning


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For these educators, increasing self-confidence combined with the enthusiasm with which children took part in the activities, led to changes in their practice. Wide implementation variability, in enactment and frequency, was observed among participants in this study despite their initial undertakings to present at least one activity each day to a small group of children. First, we discuss low implementation cases.

The discussion will then address reports from teachers who implemented the play-based activities with greater frequency and consistency. After 4 weeks, the educator in Room 1 withdrew from the study. In this program, the activities designed to be small group activities were presented to groups as large as 17, resulting in children spending a lot of time waiting for a turn.

There was a change in staff in Room 4. The second educator in Room 4 set up activities in the room after recalling that they were in the storeroom; however, the selection of activities appears to have been unsystematic. The educator in Room 5 rarely implemented the activities and similarly kept them in the storeroom. Finally, the implementation strategy employed by the educator in Room 6 cannot be established, as this teacher did not complete implementation logs. Our attention now turns to the educators in Rooms 2 and 3, and the first educator in Room 4.

These educators took a systematic approach to implementing the activities. The educator reported that she came to see that learning priorities in the broader program were supported by the play-based mathematics activities. Consequently, not only were they used more frequently, but the educator also deliberately revisited some of the activities that had been presented earlier in the year:. Room 2, Round 3 interview. The educator in Room 3 described uncertainty about how to go about teaching mathematical ideas in her program and consequently enacted the activities with a high degree of fidelity; she followed instructions provided for each activity closely.

If the children are really. Room 4, Educator 1, exit interview. One activity was set up each week on a designated table in the room. Although each activity involved small groups of children, the educator usually waited for children to initiate the play at this table and most activities were then teacher directed in their delivery. The educator in Room 2 commented on unanticipated opportunities for turn-taking, peer conversations and for children to lead activities. Cause I want to have my turn.

Room 2, Round 2 interview. Like, a lot of the board-type games, and then they will. Yeah, some have found it easy; others of the same age and same skill in counting and making patterns still found that difficult. They thought this is more complicated or something. Whenever we do any of these activities, she knows straight away. I watched her the other day. Room 3, Round 1 interview.

Room 3, Round 2 interview. Writing down all that—how they went and what happened and all that—and observing all that is more what we normally do. Teacher 1, Room 4, Round 1 interview. This issue was pursued at the second exit interview with the first lead educator.

Caroline McGrath (Author of Supporting Early Mathematical Development)

Some of them, yes. Teacher 1, Room 4, Round 2, exit interview. Actually I think the assistant did. Another educator in the room, I think she saw an activity that was happening and some concepts that were being used, I think it was the geometry patterns one. Teacher 2, Room 4, Round 3 interview. Room 4, Round 3 interview. Recognizing this variability points to the critical importance of authentic and accurate assessment to differentiate learning opportunities for children.

Two participants Rooms 1 and 2 raised concerns about incorporating another element in their programs. Her attitude underwent a significant change and the activities were enacted more frequently. Rather than needing to unlearn existing understanding to learn new ideas Snider, ; Spillane, , which would have required a significant change in cognitive schema, this educator quickly recognized benefits of implementing the activities and was open to a more intentional, evidence-based approach:.

Using the activities directly addressed these concerns, as examples of questions and relevant language to model were provided with each activity. Reading the provided step-by-step explanations of each activity was reported to equip the educators with sufficient knowledge to feel more confident and consequently, to model the language in conversations with children. Or they made it very competitive, you know, who could get it quicker could get this, could have this prize, or whatever it was, so that already would put anxiety there about getting it right, and then.

By the end of the study, the conversation was more light-hearted evidenced by her laughter. Room 3, Round 3 interview. And I think well if I take this activity, where can I take it?

How to get into Play-Based Learning: Part 1 - What is Play?

And then for the children, what will happen? The educators in Rooms 4 and 5 waited for children to initiate interactions around the activity or request an activity—although the activities were not always accessible to the children as they were stored in a different room. Their attitudes remained unchanged throughout the duration of the study, reflecting their persistent pedagogical beliefs about the role of the early childhood educator.

Research has demonstrated that educators filter new ideas through existing knowledge Curby et al. The educator in Room 6 did not provide implementation logs, but reported in interviews that using the activities prompted her awareness that she did not lack the necessary skills and understanding to deliver the resources.

Play-Based Mathematics Activities as a Resource for Changing Educator Attitudes and Practice

This awareness proved empowering, and her anxiety at the start of the study was reportedly replaced by an increasing sense of self-confidence. It appeared that this was a collaborative and iterative process: Those educators who implemented the activities changed their teaching practice. Increasingly positive attitudes to the activities and greater self-confidence led to more frequent use of the activities, and thus more systematic implementation.

This in turn facilitated accurate, evidence-based teaching. In short, by providing a range of play-based activities that were relevant and interesting to the children, along with accompanying instructions, prompts, and suggestions for extending activities, educators were better equipped to enact child-centered practice.

The over-arching goal of early childhood education is to provide optimal learning opportunities for children. Our findings show that the provision and enactment of a purposefully designed suite of play-based mathematics activities may enable educators to develop increasing confidence in the intentional teaching of mathematics in early learning environments. This is encouraging evidence of the potential impact of an evidence-based, play-based, validated early childhood mathematics curriculum.

This research was funded by an Australian Postgraduate Award Industry Scholarship as part of E4Kids, a longitudinal study investigating the effectiveness of early learning experiences in early childhood settings in Australia. Care is primarily aimed at children aged years, but primary school children may also receive care before and after school, and during school holidays. Besides teaching pre-service teacher candidates, her work is also directed towards supporting the ongoing post-qualification professional learning of early childhood practitioners. Amelia Church is a lecturer in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at The University of Melbourne, where she teaches courses in reesarch methods in early childhood education, applied conversation analysis and qualitative research methods.

Her work addresses program access and engagement; program standards and quality, the curriculum and pedagogy applied in different services, leadership and staff development, child and family involvement, and program outcomes. Skip to main content. Download Citation If you have the appropriate software installed, you can download article citation data to the citation manager of your choice. Via Email All fields are required. Send me a copy Cancel.

Article first published online: May 31, ; Issue published: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 3. Keywords early childhood , mathematics , teacher attitudes , teacher beliefs , curriculum , maths talk , play-based mathematics. Results and Discussion Section:.

Reported Changes in Attitude. Excerpt From Instruction Manual. Tips on citation download. Guide to the National Quality Standard. Predicting teacher participation in a classroom-based, integrated preventive intervention for preschoolers. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 25, - Meeting the National Quality Standards: A case study of the professional learning requirements of early childhood educators in an inner city, local government area of Melbourne, Australia.

Australasian Journal of Early Childhood, 39 4 , 21 - The ecology of human development. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 26, - Google Scholar , Crossref. Navigating through number and operations in prekindergarten—Grade 2. National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

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