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ABACUS EARLY YEARS Ginn Teacher's Resource Book Pounds 19.99. Workbooks 1 amp; 2. Pounds 4.99 each pack of 8

EARLY STEPS MATHEMATICS Collins Evaluation Pack Pounds 19.99. Teacher's Handbook Pounds 34.99. Poster Pack Pounds 39.99 Activity Books 1 to 4. Pounds 3 packs of 5. Story Books Pounds 19.99 set of 6 books

The long march of the curriculum is at last reaching its inevitable conclusion, at the very beginning of school. The publication of the Desirable Outcomes document by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority last year set out a learning framework and specific attainment targets for five-year-olds. Teaching and learning materials are now coming on to the market in response to this drive to quantify and develop consistent quality in early years experience.

Ginn's new Abacus materials offer one such approach to the introduction and development of early mathematical skills. The teacher's resource book defines key aims, starting points and resources, and outlines a good handful of activities for concepts such as colour, sorting and matching. Key vocabulary and opportunities to exploit the learning potential of play activities are provided for each topic.

The advice on teacher presentation is quite prescriptive but could be adapted to suit personal style. This is helpful material for those in the early stages of their career and for enhancing continuity within a school's longer term maths programme.

Photocopiable sheets for home provide reinforcement and a link with parents which establishes the importance of informal learning activities.

The colourful 16-page Abacus workbooks aim to provide reinforcement with the guidance of staff, but are insufficiently challenging. Children are asked to put crosses on red fish, ticks on yellow fish, to write the number two in a box beneath five paired objects. But it's not enough, because as the resource book itself demonstrates, the concepts involved can be explored best using concrete materials. If using visual information or learning to record on paper are the issues, then young children need broader experience and greater consolidation.

Collins's Early Steps will appeal to teachers who relish the challenge of creating good experiential opportunities for learning. Their workbooks offer an active approach to both concepts and the development of recording.For example, the measures workbook features a full-page giant to be finished from the head down as an exercise in looking at length. The shapes workbook offers a variety of dot-to-dot, mazes, copying and enlargement work to explore pencil control alongside geometric properties.

The set of 30 Early Steps posters is a durable, informative visual reference library with its own set of notes on how to get the best out of them. Titles, which include Numbers in the environment, Sharing (chocolate and pizza!) and Graphs (with shells or fruit), mixing photography, graphics and illustration work nicely.

The storybook six-pack is a refreshing reminder that mathematical ideas are woven into language. You'd be prompted to collect and use some more stories rooted in mathematical ideas from the book-corner.

Each Early Steps title uses gentle humour and repetition of key phrases as familiar tricks of the trade to tease out tricky concepts such as position, volume, time and quantities.

The teacher's handbook, of course, covers the full range of concepts, with an emphasis on number and some good ideas on starting points for shape, measures, pattern and logic work.

The suggestions on progression through the concepts and support materials are helpful, but leave scope for individual professional judgment.

Each step covers a separate concept. The layout clearly sets out key language highlighted in pink, objectives as bullet-points at the top and background theory in plain language for the less mathematical before recommending starting points and activities.

The assessment section provides a checklist of key indicators to judge attainment, cross-referenced to simple recording charts. Further investigations and homeschool links complete the menu.

Early Steps is ambitious, flexible, thorough and thoroughly recommended.

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