Patrice Dougan is the Herald's education reporter.

Early childhood maths push goes against Govt thinking, says union

"The most important thing is that teachers recognise and respond to children's developing interest in mathematical ideas." Photo / Dean Purcell.
"The most important thing is that teachers recognise and respond to children's developing interest in mathematical ideas." Photo / Dean Purcell.

A report linking early mathematics skills to later academic achievement is another indication of the importance of good quality teaching in early childhood education, the country's largest education union says.

The Education Review Office today released a guide to improving teaching maths skills in early childhood, saying a child's early years were an important time to begin developing their understanding of mathematics, and that it gives kids a "good foundation" to grow and succeed in later schooling. It also pointed to numerous examples of how early childhood centres could incorporate maths into everyday play.

"There are many and varied opportunities for our youngest children to learn maths - in the sandpit, at the water trough, with the building blocks," Dr Deirdre Shaw, the ERO's manager evaluation services, said.

"The most important thing is that teachers recognise and respond to children's developing interest in mathematical ideas, and respond in ways that extend their learning.

"ERO wanted to shine the light on some of the great maths teaching we've seen across the country so that other teachers working with early learners can use the examples to inform and improve their own practice.

"The examples show deliberate teaching that results in rich maths learning. They give services and schools working with early learners added insight into how they can extend children's spontaneous learning with responsive and planned teaching.

"We want these stories to be used by others to strengthen maths learning for all our young children."

However, the NZEI Te Riu Roa union said while it supported the initiative, it only highlighted how "the Government got it wrong" when it reduced funding for qualified teaching at kindergarten and early childhood services six years ago.

"The ERO report says international evidence shows that at the age of 10, the quality of early childhood education still influences children's competencies that lead to a successful adulthood, and that mathematical ability is one of the most influential factors," national president Louise Green said.

"This doesn't mean that other skills such creativity and curiosity, as well as social and self-esteem skills are not equally important. But it is very clear that good quality teaching in early childhood is critical."

It was not about pushing kids "into algebra before 5", but there was a "need for a balance between spontaneous child-initiated play and planned mathematical learning", Ms Green said.

"What this highlights is the importance of qualified and skilled teachers who are able to follow the curriculum and engage in and develop rich conversations with children that support their exploration and learning.

"Unfortunately, funding cuts to ECE services and the Government's market-driven approach means that many children will be missing out on quality teaching and learning at a young age."

Read the full guide here

- NZ Herald

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