Let’s Count: Notice, explore, and talk about mathematics in everyday life

Bob Perry and Sue Dockett, from Charles Sturt University and Peridot Education Pty Ltd, discuss the Let’s Count program which has been designed to assist educators to make maths a positive experience for children.

“It’s been a lot of noticing things in her surroundings that I don’t think she would have noticed before… for example… we’re driving, and she says, ‘What’s the distance from Newcastle to home?’ It’s really taking advantage of moments where she can learn and enjoy maths… I think sometimes you don’t realise as a parent that you’re actually encouraging it” - Let’s Count parent.

Let’s Count is an Australian early mathematics program designed to assist early childhood professionals in early childhood settings (as well as libraries, social work, and music therapy) to join with families to promote positive mathematical experiences for their young preschool children (3-5 years). Let’s Count has been implemented across Australia since 2010 by The Smith Family.

Through a professional learning process offered both face-to-face and online, early childhood professionals across the community extend their knowledge and skills in mathematics education to facilitate the engagement of families in their children’s mathematical experiences in their everyday lives. Key to the program is the mantra: Notice, explore, and talk about mathematics in everyday life.

Lots of opportunities to engage with mathematics are missed when they are not noticed in children’s play and everyday activities. Whilst many of the opportunities for counting, locating, and measuring (comparing) are often noticed, such as:

  • counting numbers of children at a party
  • counting stairs
  • crawling under a table or hiding behind a tree
  • finding who is tallest in the family
  • weighing ingredients for cooking.

There is more to mathematics learning than just these three topics. Think about:

  • What shapes can be seen in the clouds, in picture books, or in trees – often much more interesting shapes than triangles and squares.
  • What mathematics is to be noticed when children are jumping on a trampoline or playing a board game?
  • Can young children explain why they have made particular decisions, based on the mathematics involved? Yes, they can, and Let’s Count helps families to provoke such experiences.

Most early childhood professionals use intentional teaching to build on young children’s experiences so that the children continue to explore and extend ideas either they or the professionals have noticed. They do this through questioning, which prompts further exploration, leading to enhanced learning.

Very few early childhood professionals will be satisfied when a child tells them that one toy is ‘bigger’ than another. They will ask questions like:

  • What do you mean by bigger?
  • How do you know that it is bigger?
  • Could you find me something even bigger?
  • Can one toy be bigger than another in one way and smaller in another way?

Let’s Count assists early childhood professionals to stimulate such sustained questioning by family members so that they can extend and enhance the mathematical experiences of their children.

“The major difference I think has been I’m much more aware of how she can learn from everyday things… yesterday my husband brought home a little thermometer, he works in refrigeration, and she wanted to know how it worked. I was trying to explain, and then I thought ‘Oh put it in the fridge’. We put it in the fridge and looked at the degrees and she wanted to put it in the freezer and look at the differences in temperature. From that it snowballed into looking at why were there different numbers, what’s Fahrenheit, what’s Celsius, all that kind of stuff” - Let’s Count parent.

Whilst noticing and exploring are very important in stimulating young children’s mathematics learning, not much will change unless the experiences and learning are shared and talked about. The route to young children’s mathematical thinking is through their language. Let’s Count encourages families to join their children in talking about what they are doing, what they are finding out, explaining what they are thinking, justifying their conclusions, and setting themselves (and their family members) further challenges. ‘Talking about mathematics’ can be quite difficult for many adult family members (and some early childhood professionals) as they may not have strong positive identities of themselves as mathematicians.

One important impact of Let’s Count on both families and early childhood professionals is the increased amount of ‘maths talk’ seen in homes and early childhood settings, with less willingness to be satisfied with a single answer. Mathematics tends to be seen as ‘processes for solving challenges’ rather than ‘ways of getting to correct answers’. Communicating these processes is a critical component of mathematics.

Let’s Count is built on the powerful mathematical ideas outlined in Belonging, Being & Becoming: The Early Years Learning Framework for Australia: “Spatial sense, structure and pattern, number, measurement, data, argumentation, connections and exploring the world mathematically are the powerful mathematical ideas children need to become numerate” (p. 38). While it is clearly aligned with the ACECQA Quality Area 6: Collaborative Partnerships with Families and Communities, evaluations of Let’s Count have shown that it does have a positive impact on the educational program and practice in early childhood settings (QA1):

“I think it’s just really broadened our understanding… it’s also given us lots of really great ideas that we can put into our program. Sort of simplified it. I think you get stuck in your head that it has to be complicated or that little kids can’t do it or whatever. But it’s really sort of opened our eyes to the things that the children already could do and then how we can expand and work with that” Let’s Count early childhood professional.

The Let’s Count program has been implemented for more than 10 years. A total of 8,000 early childhood professionals (centre-based educators, librarians, sports coaches, therapists, volunteers, social workers, and many others) across Australia and overseas have undertaken the program and utilised it with their families and children. The program is currently being revised to make it even more appropriate to modern Australia.

“We know it works and we are looking for ways in which it will work even better for even more people.”

Let’s Count is supported by the Commonwealth Department of Education, Skills and Employment.

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