Maths for the early years

24th October 1997 at 01:00
Mathematics in Nursery Education, By Ann Montague-Smith, David Fulton, Pounds 12.99. Enriching Early Mathematical Learning, By Grace Cook, Lesley Jones, Cathy Murphy and Gillian Thrumpston, Open University Press, Pounds 10.99

Early years education is going through a period of flux and debate. What with The Desirable Outcomes document, nursery vouchers and the repercussions of the national literacy and numeracy projects, it's difficult to frame even one statement of educational philosophy on which there will be general consensus. In such a climate it is good to see the publication of two practical, clearly written, non-doctrinaire books.

Mathematics in Nursery Education has a densely presented text and a careful review of the relevant theory in each section. It gives plenty of help with the nursery curriculum, providing excellent detailed "concept maps" to enable rigorous planning of each topic. Several focused activities are then outlined, and there is a section on the relevant linked vocabulary. Assessment is also covered. A nice touch is the discussion of adult intervention in children's play.

But the sections on parental involvement are brief, and there's little reference to the vast array of support materials. I also found it surprising that more use was not made of the number line, given the book's theoretical orientation.

This criticism also applies to Enriching Early Mathematical Learning. But despite this minor gripe, this book provides an excellent resource for nursery and infant teachers, particularly those who are training or newly-trained.

It is beautifully clear and well laid-out, with a wealth of activities for teachers to use and an enjoyable section on "what might happen". A particularly attractive feature is the appendix at the end, which provides a set of number scripts and symbols from different countries.

I was disappointed to see the role of parents left out of this book too, but a compensating factor is the section on whole-class teaching in the introduction. Too many books on teaching maths in the early years leave out this crucial aspect of pedagogy.

Mathematics in Nursery Education is a reflective practitioner's book. It is thoughtful and quite detailed, and although it certainly has good practical ideas, it provides some coverage of the relevant research and theoretical discussion. It would be very useful for any teacher on a course, or wishing to learn more about some of the theory underlying the current debates. Enriching Early Mathematical Learning fits more into the "tips for teachers" genre, although this doesn't do justice to its theoretical stance, or to its thoughtful set of headings, which provide in-depth support to teachers. In this sense, the book can genuinely be said to support effective teaching. Both books would be ideal additions to the booklists of nursery nurses as well as teacher training courses.

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