I have created a practical guide for early years educators (as well as anyone else interested!) when teaching number sense. I hope you find this guide to be informative and helpful!
1) Early years educators must take into account that “key concepts… are interrelated, and are not necessarily developed in a linear fashion” (FDK, 2011, p.93). There are multiple concepts that make up number sense, and sometimes a child will move on to the next concept, and then later have to go back and work on the previous concept. They are all interrelated, so it is important to note that with time and support, all of the concepts will be learned.
2) It is very important that early years educators incorporate real life experiences into children’s learning as much as possible. Children all come to school with different backgrounds, experiences and skill sets, so it is important that the educator acknowledges and supports that (FDK, 2011).
3) Incorporating mathematical literature into the classroom is also another way to encourage the learning number sense in the early years. There are many different books available for early educators that demonstrate the use of mathematical terminology, as well as containing illustrations of important number sense concepts (FDK, 2011).
4) Early years educators should take a constructivist approach to teaching number sense, meaning that they must give children the opportunity to take part in activities that are “active, hands-on, child-centred, and problem-based” (FDK, 2011, p.93). The learning must focus on the child’s interests, so that the child constructs his or her own learning.
5) In the early years classroom, the children should be given as many opportunities as possible to show their learning. For example, they can be given the chance to create concrete representations, create drawings, or discuss their learning orally. Educators can document their learning by taking photographs, or keeping a copy of the written/drawn work for future comparison (FDK, 2011).
6) It is important that children are provided with planned opportunities by their early years educator every day. These opportunities should be meaningful, follow the constructivist approach, and allow the children to fully explore the concept being taught (FDK, 2011).
7) In the early years classroom, there should be a variety of materials available for use by the children. These should include natural materials (twigs, leaves, pinecones, etc.), manipulatives (snap cubes, blocks, etc.), as well as other tools, to allow the children to explore their learning and build their number sense knowledge (FDK, 2011).
8) Something that is very important to consider, is that early years educators must allow children to see themselves as mathematicians. Children must be given time to learn, practice, reflect, and build on their knowledge, and educators have to support this. We want to help children develop positive attitudes towards mathematics, as their attitudes play a big role in their learning (FDK, 2011).
9) To encourage number sense learning, early years educators can provide resources and support for the parents so that the children are receiving additional opportunities to build their knowledge at home. It can be as simple as having parents encourage their children to play counting games with them, or read mathematical storybooks (FDK, 2011).
10) For children with special needs, or any children who just need additional support, early years educators can help guide their learning by using visual representations, concrete materials, and extra time to complete activities. Of course, each child is different and has his or her own needs, so the educator must be flexible (FDK, 2011).