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The transition from home to an educational setting
Ian Thompson, Visiting Professor at Edge Hill University, Ormskirk, Lancashire
The Independent Review of Mathematics Teaching in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools (The Williams Review) (DCSF, 2008: 73) argues that:
“It is self-evident that parents are central to their child’s life, development and attainment. They cannot be ignored or sidelined but should be a critical element in any practitioner’s plans for the education of children.”
The Review goes on to close with:
“Both research and Government policy support this assertion. There are already many examples of successful projects that embrace these principles to good, and sometimes stunning, effect. The aim of the review should be to normalise and mainstream these approaches, not allowing any educational establishment to even consider leaving parents out of the equation.”
One of the items included in the Secretary of State’s remit to the Williams Committee asked them to consider how parents and families should best be helped to support young children’s mathematical development. Chapter 6 of the final report includes a survey of recent research and Government thinking on this topic. It goes on to explore:
- an overview of the key emerging issues on parents and mathematics
- a brief look at recent Government publications and what they say about parents, and the Government’s attitude to and role in parenting
- how settings and schools are using the evidence to shape their services to parents
- a brief overview of two recent primary projects deemed to be illustrating good practice.
Rose Griffiths reported on a project carried out in Leicester (Griffiths, 2008) that attempted to ascertain what parents and carers did at home that might be considered to be helping their children learn to count. Part of the project involved filming families engaged in mathematical activities, and resulted in the making of a DVD for parents, carers and practitioners, Getting children counting, available from the Association of Teachers of Mathematics (ATM). Twelve families, from two Sure Start areas, each with a child aged two, three or four, were invited to show the researchers any counting activities that they did with their children. This resulted in the videoing of 94 ‘activity clips’.
As might be expected, the most common activity involved learning the correct order of the counting words – sometimes in more than one language. Half of the families used songs and rhymes to help the children become familiar with the sequence. The next most common activity concerned finding the total of a collection of objects: toys, bricks, skittles, cups and saucers, etc. Another common event was the immediate correction by the parent or carer of any errors the child made, either by reciting the correct number word or requesting that the child start again.
A popular activity involved ‘call and response’. For example, when a child was being led upstairs to bed, the adult would count the steps one at a time, saying each number name in turn, and the child would repeat each word. On a different occasion the child would lead the ‘call and response’ sequence with the adult repeating and correcting where necessary. One type of activity that the researchers found was under-represented when filming, involved situations where the adults counted for their own interest or purposes. One parent said, “I didn’t think of that (counting t-shirts as she pegged them out on the line) as helping my little boy learn to count – it’s something I would do anyway, even if he wasn’t here.”
There was one particular activity that the researchers came to realise did not really take place very often in school, and this was the counting of actions. There were examples of children hopping from one room to the next; playing with a skipping rope outside; bouncing around the room on a space hopper; playing with family members at batting a balloon back and forth; or demonstrating karate kicks to a sibling. What was noticeable about this type of activity was that it allowed the children to count to a higher number than they usually did. For example, Achayla, aged four, only counted up to a maximum of five when playing with her toys, as this was all she had, whereas when she was hopping around the house she counted confidently up to 20. In fact, when she was on the swing in the garden she extended her counting using her own idiosyncratic counting sequence: ‘37, 38, 39, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 59, 30, 31…’
Ginsburg (1989: 43) argues that preschoolers make mistakes when counting larger collections because they are not very skilful at considering things once and only once: they lack a ‘systematic plan for keeping track of things’. In the case of counting actions, there are no objects to line up before counting or to move after they have been counted. So, even though ‘action counting’ probably necessitates more time, space and individual attention than is often available in school settings, it is clearly important that practitioners attempt to include such activities in their lessons, particularly if the objective is to support children in the counting of larger numbers.
The Williams Review (DCSF, 2008: 70) makes the point that:
“...teachers need to recognise the wealth of mathematical knowledge children pick up outside of the classroom, and help children to make links between ‘in-school’ and ‘out-of-school’ mathematics.”
Working with parents and carers to ascertain what happens in some homes and then sharing this with other families can only help in the achievement of this goal. More often than not, activities concerned with the promotion of home-school links involve communication that passes only from school to home – as in the case of the two examples of ‘good practice’ described in the Williams Review (pp. 71-72) (see also Winter, 2010). Perhaps we should be trying harder to develop activities that involve communication the other way round, i.e. from home to school.
- DCSF (Department for Children, Schools and Families) (2008) Independent Review of Mathematics Teaching in Early Years Settings and Primary Schools (The Williams Review). Nottingham: DCSF.
- Ginsburg, H.P. (1989) Children’s Arithmetic: How they Learn it and How you Teach it, 2nd edn. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
- Griffiths, R. (2008) The family counts, in I. Thompson, Teaching and learning early number, 2nd edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
- Winter, J. (2010) Home-school knowledge exchange, in I. Thompson, Issues in teaching numeracy in primary schools, 2nd edn. Maidenhead: Open University Press.
We are grateful to the ATM for their permission to include an extract from the DVD Getting Children Counting, which is available through the ATM website.