Focus on...Using counting books to support children’s transition into a reception class
From the point of view of both a parent and a practitioner, the most important aspect of starting school is ensuring a child feels confident and secure in their transition. Life in a full-time reception class is a huge step for all children and an equally challenging time for many parents.
Practitioners in school will be welcoming many children on the same day and the thought and preparation that goes into helping the first week go as smoothly as possible can have a lasting effect upon a child’s longer term success. In this issue of ‘Focus on…’ we will look at how using a simple resource such as a counting book could potentially support this transition while also building strong foundations in other areas of the curriculum.
Books that focus on counting have been a firm favourite in homes and early years settings for as long as we can all remember. Young children have an innate fascination with counting and the order and control it affords them in their play. Most of us have memories of sitting as a child, or with our own children, thoroughly engrossed in a colourful book that presents endless opportunities to talk, interact and count engaging objects on each page.
One such example, which is enjoyed as much today as it was in 1970 when it was first published is The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (ISBN 0-14-050087-1). The elements that make this book so appealing to young children and adults alike are endless and it rightly deserves its place as one of the most cherished books in children’s literature. The opportunity to count from one to five is interactive as the pages grow in size and the caterpillar nibbles his way through each piece of fruit. The predictability changes, however, when we reach Saturday and the caterpillar attempts to devour a whole range of delicious items, many of which will be less familiar to children and therefore have the potential to lead to a great deal of discussion. The Very Hungry Caterpillar has enormous mathematical potential in other ways too: the changing size of the caterpillar, the patterns and colours of the butterfly and the food he eats, symmetry and the time frames involved.
Other examples include A Flip and Find Book – Numbers by Sue Hendra (Walker ISBN 0-7445-8203-2). This is a beautifully illustrated book full of bold, brightly coloured animal pictures where children are asked questions such as the frog’s ‘How many eyes do I have?’. The children are then presented with three possible flaps, each with answers that will entertain and inform. For example, if the child lifts the flap labelled ‘1’ the label reveals ‘No...but I’ve got 1 long sticky tongue for catching my dinner with!’
Shirley Hughes’ well-loved character Alfie provides wonderful reasons to count in Alfie’s Numbers (ISBN -370-32591-5). As always, the illustrations are beautifully engaging and this particular story focuses on Alfie’s daily life and includes his birthday party, having tea at Grandma’s and playing with his friends. The opportunities for children to relate the events in the pictures to their own lives and to ask questions alongside developing their counting are endless.
The summer holiday leading up to a child’s first week in school could be an ideal time to set up such an approach. By encouraging parents to select a favourite counting book from a collection at home or, better still, a visit to join the local library, children begin to develop their counting skills and love of number in a meaningful and engaging way that build’s relationships between a parent and child. Regularly reading to children, as we know, can have a dramatic impact upon their success in many areas of school life and, by showing parents that they are actively supporting their child’s mathematical development through this enjoyable and familiar approach, we are also creating valuable common ground between home and school.
A short letter sent out before the summer break, explaining how valuable such an activity could be in supporting a child’s journey from home to school would enable parents to plan in time for a visit to the local library. Additional information as to the location and opening hours of local libraries, access to library vans, the help on offer from assistants in locating specific books and how to join, might reassure and encourage parents who are less familiar with this type of service.
If we return to the focus of smooth transitions, we see the opportunity created to gain a valuable insight into children’s interests and skills as they start school. The favourite counting book could be brought along for the first week or so to be shared with other children and teachers. Children are more likely to talk about things that are familiar and comfortable to them and it is this realisation that their interests are valued that leads to high self-esteem and confidence.
Developing mathematical understanding through well loved stories, rather than just those written with a specific mathematical theme, is an area generally underused within the EYFS and Key Stage 1 although the potential is enormous. We have already featured some different ways of using stories in the Early Years Magazine and will continue to explore ways of maximising these valuable resources in future issues. Why not browse the magazine archive for other story related articles? You might like to look at Issue 7’s focus on How Many Snails? a counting book by Paul Giganti Jr ISBN 0688136397 or Issue 8’s look at Jack and the Beanstalk.