As a former Reception teacher, parents would often proudly tell me their child could count to 20. More often than not, they were correct — the child could recite the number names from one to 20. Impressive? Yes. Meaningful? Not so much!
The ability to recite numbers in order is only one of the many levels of oral counting. Unless children learn the basic building blocks early on, they will struggle to understand later concepts such as decimals and fractions.
I often hear practitioners say ‘I’m no good at Maths, so it’s just as well I teach Early Years, because I couldn’t cope with Year 6.’ Helping children to conceptualise our number system is demanding and requires a deep understanding of counting principles. That’s why the most experienced and confident maths teachers should be in Early Years.
In Singapore, teachers spend a long time making sure children have a strong and secure understanding of basic principles. They are justly unapologetic about this. The emphasis is on going slowly in the beginning to make greater progress later.