Mathematics in the Early Years, By David Clemson and Wendy Clemson, Routledge Pounds 10.99. 0 415 09628 6.
Mathematics in the Early Years belongs to the series Teaching and Learning in the First Three Years of School. I have to confess to being unfamiliar with it, a fact I now intend to remedy. If the rest of the series is as worthwhile as this book, my time will have been well spent.
The book is well organised and readable, interesting to the point where I actually sat and read it at one sitting, nodding sagely at regular intervals. The editor's preface informs us that "each volume is intended to be an up to date, judicious mix of theory and practical classroom application". It is too.
It ranges from Chapter 1 "How Children Learn" to a final chapter entitled "Workshop Ideas", a comprehensive guide to in-service training. In between,subject matter includes mathematics and language, classroom organisation, school plans, assessment, recording and evaluation.
Early years teachers find often themselves on the receiving end of advice that all too clearly demonstrates a lack of classroom experience on the part of the adviser. Here, the authors' knowledge and practical experience of early years teaching is apparent.
They raise the issue that many parents and teachers have "negative" feelings towards mathematics. The subject is viewed by some parents as "difficult", placing the reception teacher in the position of having to counteract such an impression while perhaps empathising with it, "Mathematics is a subject in which many teachers of young children are unsure or lack confidence in their own abilities and insights."
This is precisely why so many schools make use of published maths schemes.It is not the children that need them - it is the teachers.
Clemson and Clemson offer a balanced view on the use of such schemes. I would hope that the days of schools simply ploughing through workbooks and calling it maths are long past. But, to be realistic, it surely has to be accepted that, given the pressure under which early years teachers are continually working, the support and security offered by a good, well-evaluated (by the school) published scheme used as the skeleton for a school's own scheme has a lot to offer.
Teachers in training could benefit a great deal from reading this book; as I read I found myself underlining sentences and paragraphs that will serve as handy hints or reminders for the teacher. The chapter entitled "Mathematics in the Classroom" is particularly rich in such offerings.
Such a statement is not meant to trivialise the content of the book, far from it. It is intended to reinforce the fact that the book is both practical and realistic.
The printing of the flow charts could be improved upon. I fear that the layout is meant to represent teachers' own work - handwriting etc. Sorry, but I found it confused and difficult to read and would prefer a more organised, type-set chart.
I mentioned the value of this book to the student but the classroom practitioner, the maths postholder, the staff member with responsibility for Inset and even the head could find it beneficial.
Clemson and Clemson state that one of their aims is to "fuel teachers' ambitions to provide enjoyable, provocative and challenging mathematics for the children they teach". Well, it will certainly help.
Geraldine Mills is Headteacher at West Park Infants School, Wolverhampton.