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How do you support the development of maths in the early years?

We’ve teamed up with Judith Dancer, an independent early years consultant and author to create a handy guide for childcare professionals like you.

To give you a taster of what to expect from the book here are some fun, practical ideas to try in your setting. Want to learn more? Get the book here.

The number robber

This experience is an example of a specific adult led activity which becomes part of a ritual with older or more able children who are recognising numerals. Ensure the children are familiar with either the 1–10 or 1–20 number lines. Introduce the idea of the “Number Robber” and at different times in the day, remove one or more numbers from the number line(s).

Support children as they notice the missing numbers – what can they do? Where appropriate, support a number hunt, or provide materials for children to create a replacement number tile.

Park the car

This experience builds on the mathematical opportunities provided by small world play. When the children have had lots of time playing with the cars and car mats, gradually introduce numbers. Provide homemade car park marking, road signs and car numbers on some of the cars. With older children, also provide materials for children to make their own signs.

Talk to the children about the numbered parking bays and numbers on the cars. Where have they seen road signs with speed limits? What are their previous experiences of car parks and car travel?

Support children as they match numbers – where appropriate encourage children to share what the numbers are: “what can you tell me about that number?”

Mud kitchen

Think about your own experiences as a child outdoors – can you remember digging in mud or sand and making “petal perfume”?

Mud kitchens are not the same as a sand tray, sand pit, digging patch or growing area. Mud kitchens offer children opportunities for role play and home corner play, enriched by natural objects outdoors. Be careful not to simply replicate indoor role play outdoors, or use too many plastic items. Where possible, make ovens and hobs using natural wood and make collections of lots of real objects. Try to include:

Containers to empty and fill: jugs, kettles, woks, pots, pans, bottles, bowls, plates, mugs, cups, moulds

Storage, including wall hooks: tyres, crates, baskets, wooden boxes

Things to mix with, strain and sieve and move: spoons, ladles, chopsticks, sieves, colanders

Things to cook and wash up: sinks, hobs, ovens, camp fires, logs

‘Ingredients’ to cook: pebbles, twigs, gravel, sand, mud, leaves, fir cones, shells, preferably plants that can be picked nearby. (See for advice on protecting species.)

The adult role in the mud kitchen is often observer of mathematical learning, or where invited, co-player.

To find out more see

For more ideas check out our handy guide Mathematics in the Early Years: a handy guide to supporting the development of children’s mathematical skills by Judith Dancer.

This handy guide has been designed to help childcare professionals support the development of children’s mathematical skills in the early years. It emphasises the importance of making mathematical thinking second nature in children and gives lots of examples of age appropriate games and activities to incorporate into sessions.

Maths needn’t be a subject that practitioners are wary of. Everyone can understand and model everyday mathematical concepts.

“Judith explains how to engage children through everyday activities and hands on experiences with great ideas on supporting and extending their understanding of maths. A not to be missed resource book for all early years settings.”

Carole Skinner, Early Years Maths Consultant and Founder Associate Early Education

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