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Early Years

Created on 02 January 2018 by ncetm_administrator
Updated on 07 January 2019 by ncetm_administrator

Early Years

Children are born ready, able and eager to learn. They actively reach out to interact with other people, and in the world around them. Development is not an automatic process, however. It depends on each unique child having opportunities to interact in positive relationships and enabling environments(i)

child in Early Years setting engaged with teacher

The first few years of a child’s life are especially important for mathematics development. Research shows that early mathematical knowledge predicts later reading ability and general education and social progress(ii). Conversely, children who start behind in mathematics tend to stay behind throughout their whole educational journey(iii).

The objective for those working in Early Years, then, is to ensure that all children develop firm mathematical foundations in a way that is engaging, and appropriate for their age. The materials in this section of the website are primarily designed to support Reception teachers (those working with 4-5 year olds), and are based on international research.

The materials are organised into key concepts (not individual objectives), which underpin many early mathematics curricula. The typical progression highlights the range of experiences (some of which may be appropriate for younger children) but the activities and opportunities could be developed across the Reception provision.

There are six key areas of early mathematics learning, which collectively provide a platform for everything children will encounter as they progress through their maths learning at primary school, and beyond:

  • Cardinality and Counting
  • Comparison
  • Composition
  • Pattern
  • Shape and Space
  • Measures.

You can explore these areas in further detail in a special Early Years episode of our podcast with Dr Sue Gifford and Viv Lloyd.

These areas form the fundamental mathematical basis of a CBeebies series of five-minute animated programmes called Numberblocks. The NCETM has provided support materials linked to the Numberblocks programmes. These are designed to help Early Years practitioners draw out and build on the maths embedded in the stories contained in each episode.

(i) Development Matters, 2012
(ii) Duncan et al, 2007
(iii) Aubrey, Godfrey, Dahl, 2006




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16 March 2020 10:23
Hi Fmc15c - we don't have activities as such. However, have you explored our resources to accompany Numberblocks? See https://www.ncetm.org.uk/Numberblocks
16 March 2020 10:04
Do you have any early years activities that can be shared at home during this Coronavirus outbreak?
By Fmc15c
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03 February 2020 08:52
Hi elainejess99 - we don't currently have plans to produce more materials, although this is a longer-term aspiration. Good to know they're popular!
02 February 2020 09:43
Hi there

Any updates on newest resources for Numberblocks series 3?? Our children love them!!!
By elainejess99
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21 October 2019 11:03
In Reception I think the emphasis is on children understanding the composition in playful contexts and developing a deep understanding of these including knowing what part is missing without seeing it e.g. I have 5 teddies altogether 3 are outside the tent, how many are inside? They may start to develop some recording of this and it is important that they select how to represent this. Using a structured representation at this point may have little meaning to a child of this age. All children need to have playful experiences, in context and construct their own representations to express their mathematical ideas – you might notice children communicate their ideas differently, which shows their own level of understanding.

The examples that I think you are referring to with fruit and vegetables are more in line with composing and decomposing object /shapes, which will support with later fractional work.

In terms of an early mathematical progression I would suggest that you look at Clements & Sarama’s book: Learning and teaching early math: the learning trajectory approach. This breaks down mathematical area and typical learning pathways through (with some age indication).

20 October 2019 08:51
Also, one more thing Viv...when I introduce the composition of number I thought that it would be a good idea to look at the language of part and whole by using some of the NCETM PD materials (1.2). I know that in your podcast episode, you mention not going too far down the route of part whole...but I know that there are some good representations within these materials and I thought it would be useful to get children to understand the language within the context of fruits/vegetables etc before they move onto the playful activities such as you suggested, in order to deepen their understanding of composition of numbers within 5. Do you think that it would be appropriate to sequence the learning in this way?

Kind regards,

By BeckyDok1985
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20 October 2019 08:37
Hi Viv,

Thank you for your comment and for the useful ideas to support the composition of number. We have been working on subitising number at the beginning of each of our carpet sessions which I know is closely linked to cardinality and composition...a lot of my children are beginning to see amounts as being made up of smaller amounts eg 2 and 2 makes 4. I thought that this was a good indicator that they may be ready to be introduced to wholes and parts - and it would be something that follows their interests. I just wanted to double check, as some of my staff are worried that it's too soon to move onto composition if not all the chn in their classes have understood the concept of cardinality. I want to be able to explain the rationale behind my thinking!

Thanks again,

By BeckyDok1985
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18 October 2019 11:04
Hello Becky,

Whilst the steps within each of the 6 areas are progressive the 6 areas themselves are not hierarchial. As children develop their sense of cardinality (the ‘fivenes’s of five) they will be exploring the composition of 5. Activities to support with composition can include:

Playing skittles – how many are stood up? / knocked down? / altogether?

Songs – 5 currant buns – keeping the one that is taken away in sight (a separate place) so building up the pattern 4 +1, 3 + 2, 2+3 …

Placing objects out and looking at them through a ‘window’ moving the window around – how many are on my side?/how many on your side? / how many altogether?

Throwing items that are double sided – e.g. beanbags how many land pattern side up?/ plain side up? / altogether?

Or drawing a line and see how many sticks land above the line? / how many below? / how many altogether?

I hope that helps.

With regards,
Viv Lloyd
17 October 2019 17:58
Hello there, I have used your 6 areas of early maths learning to inform our reception medium term planning and I have a question for you...

Do children have to have mastered all the counting principles and comparison teaching points before they move onto composition and part whole? We are teaching numbers 0-5 within out Autumn term and I wanted to introduce part whole in Autumn Term 2 so that children would be able to partition numbers to 5 before the end of the year. We have done work on developing the counting principles but some classes are more secure with this than others...do you think that it would be too early to teach the idea of composition in the Autumn term? What would you recommend in terms of progression?

Any help with this would be greatly appreciated. I want to make sure that I'm interpreting your resource in the right way!

Thank you!

By BeckyDok1985
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11 October 2019 09:11
Hi Teacher2R, we have made an adjustment to the file to slow down the transition speed. Hope that helps.
07 October 2019 12:43

I'm just accessing Series 1, Episode 3 or the Support Materials and their are guidance notes on how to slow down the timings (when showing the pictures that encourage the children to subitise 1 and 2) however this is not possible while in the 'Read Only' state of the document.

Is it possible to have the access code so that this can be used? 1.5 seconds is just a little too fast and I assume as the guidance notes tell you how to change it, that it must be possible to change it.
By Teacher2R
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04 February 2019 11:12
Hi Egriffin1, at a national level we have not produced an overview as the experiences need to build on the children’s starting points and interests. For a more detailed overview of the typical progressions then the work of Clements & Sarama ('Learning and Teaching Early Math, The Learning Trajectories Approach, 2nd Edition') on learning trajectories would be a valuable reference. However, some Maths Hubs have worked on planning overviews as part of their EY Work Groups. You may want to get in touch with your local hub to explore this further: http://mathshubs.org.uk/find-your-hub/.
03 February 2019 20:50
Is there an overview for the coverage in reception? I am currently reviewing our maths planning and wonder how the 6 areas would look as a long term plan / overview. Thank you.
By egriffin1
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18 January 2019 09:36
The next batch is currently in productino, although we don't have a set date for publication - sorry! It's good to knwo that they're being well-used.
18 January 2019 09:36
The next batch is currently in productino, although we don't have a set date for publication - sorry! It's good to knwo that they're being well-used.
16 January 2019 13:08
My class are responding so positively to the numberblocks support materials - thank you! When are the next set due to be avaible?
By Louise_0978
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10 January 2019 19:35
That completely makes sense. Would just be so much easier to be able to copy and paste the text as opposed to re-writing it for my flips. Thank you for your reply.
By AliciaValane
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05 December 2018 13:29
Sorry: although we've produced the materials in conjunction with the producers of Numberblocks, they hold the copyright for the images, and so the materials are only available in read-only format.
05 December 2018 13:23
Would it not be possible to be able to view it normally as opposed to read only?
By AliciaValane
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