Hey Grand Kids: Maths isn’t numeracy. It’s fun!

by Penny Cook

Sibylesque Penny Cook Quote

I’m an early childhood educator and I love maths. (Not good at it necessarily). I love literacy too. What I hate is that we so easily deny our young  children their mathematical and literacy potential because we decide to educate them. Yes…I think education has a lot to answer for.

I’ve spent over 30 years with children before they begin their formal education and what I see is mathematical thinking and literacy at its finest … and strangely enough not separate. The problem with numeracy and literacy, as I see it, is we have abandoned the thinking aspect. We have failed to connect it with what children bring into this world…curiosity. Children are born curious..they have to be to get beyond day one. Actually, they have to be curious to get out of the womb I think!!!

Sibylesque   Little Girls smile

I look at my grandson and reflect. One day he and I were at my mum’s place. He was 2 years old maybe and we had a ritual of he and I spending the night at mum’s. Osczar had full reign of the agenda and after a few of these sleep overs, a pattern emerged.He would go into Mum’s office and explore the shelves. At some point he would always bring out 3 shot glasses and 3 dice (have resisted the urge to ask questions of my mother!).We would each have a shot glass and die and ‘jolly hockey sticks’ like throw them onto the tiled floor and I would (teacher like) count the spots on each. There was great excitement…from all of us. At some point I stopped counting and started naming the value of each throw. What I noticed was, that very soon, Osczar was naming the value of each throw…accurately. With my limited mathematical understanding I believe he was subatising. Now, in the course of these interactions I also noticed he could count on.

For some reason, we as early childhood educators value those skills, but I’m not sure we know why…in the world of mathematical thinking. What I do know is that we have spent hours of enjoyment playing a ton of games and Osczar never thought he couldn’t do it. He was always a joint participant in the games. We never expected he couldn’t play. We are serious gamers.

I worry that we have so formalised mathematical thinking into something called numeracy that it is measured only in school and not in real life, that we are doing our children a disservice in the name of education.

Isn’t it our job as educators to have enough ‘mathematical’ knowledge and expertise about play to firstly recognise the mathematics and then build on it … through play?


Penny CookPenny Cook has been an early childhood educator for over 30 years. She loves to travel  – anywhere. Penny is a mother and ‘Nan Pen’, who is continuously fascinated and amazed by her two young grandchildren.  She has always wanted to live in  a tree house by the beach …..it’s never too late!!…….

Photo source: geneology.lovetoknow archive


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