As dad to two daughters under-5, pre-school learning is a topic that is close to my heart. I tutor children from as young as 6 years old so I appreciate the impact of those early years; those vital development stages before official education begins. This tender time when the foundations of all later learning are built, through play, interaction and everyday activities.
Children begin learning about number, shape and space as they play with objects, pour water in the bath or share with their siblings. I was recently playing a game of catch with my 4 year-old, (currently at nursery). We were playing ‘up to 10′ and when my daughter got to 7 I had asked her how many more points to win. She paused for thought and a few seconds later replied ‘3.’ I will admit I was (pleasantly) surprised for I had not taught her any formal maths. It made me realise how children gain experience of more complex concepts in a practical context. For instance, children develop an implicit notion of probability, something that researchers have even found in babies. Developmental Psychologist, Alison Gopnik describes this fascinating experiment:
Eight-month-old babies were shown a box full of mixed-up Ping-Pong balls: mostly white but with some red ones mixed in. The babies were more surprised, and looked longer and more intently at the experimenter when four red balls and one white ball were taken out of the box — a possible, yet improbable outcome — than when four white balls and a red one were produced. nytimes.com
The groundwork that is laid for later mathematical learning through stimulating experiences and an enriching environment in the early years can’t be underestimated. In many ways children’s earliest learning is the most important, just as strong foundations are essential to any building. I often find that difficulties students are having in maths can be traced back to more basic concepts that were not properly grasped. For instance a primary school child who hasn’t fully understand the concept of ‘place value’ and can’t explain that 12 is one ten and 2 units will be totally lost when it comes to arithmetic beyond the most simple sums.