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The new Cambridge series First Skills in Numeracy adds up to good news for children and teachers.
Aimed at nursery and reception age-groups, this first stage highlights the real meaning of "core curriculum". Concepts of quantity, sets, number notation - the basic building blocks - are introduced and consolidated with care.
For nursery children, there are short and well-structured activity sessions. For Reception, the lesson structure extends the language and adds a range of activities to be tackled independently or with help.
The teaching process is scripted to deliver small-step learning objectives with clear guidance on language, timing and resources. Manageable assessment pointers are built into the process.
First Skills emphasises the importance of mental maths - teaching children to reason, visualise and explain for themselves. The workbooks later offer a variety of approaches to simple mathematical recording. The design is busy but unfussy, with plenty to do at an appropriate level.
Pupils are introduced to visual representation, standard notation and simple language to read and write with adult help. The First Skills Handwriting Book provides important practice with pencil control, directionality and number formation.
Each workbook cover offers a simple number-based game, which can be used several times for reinforcement. The back cover has a space for children to keep a record of the number of games they have played, reinforcing the importance of number yet again.
Workbook material can be photocopied from a spiral-bound book of originals. Planning grids in the teacher's guide cross reference to lesson plans, so allowing flexibility in planning an appropriate programme of learning.
This approach recognises that helping with lesson preparation will allow teachers to concentrate on delivery and interaction with children. This gentle and effective introduction to numeracy could also ease the exasperation of those who are used to revisiting "basics" in later years.
Jon O'Connor is head of Parkside first school, Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.