Pre-school children learning maths through storybooks in new SHINE project

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It’s important that these books contain rich, high-quality language, because here in Tameside, and across Greater Manchester, language is one of the biggest barriers to school readiness.

Helen Clarke Deputy Headteacher, Dane Bank Primary School

Pre-school children in Greater Manchester are learning about maths through storybooks in a new project funded by SHINE.

The Story Time Maths project seeks to bridge the gap in maths understanding between disadvantaged children and their peers by creating a high-quality mathematics curriculum based on storybooks. If successful, it will help put these children on an equal footing with their classmates when they start school.

Parents of young children are also involved in the project. Through a series of workshops, they will be given the skills and confidence to share stories with their children whilst developing their understanding of maths in an age-appropriate way.

Evidence shows that using storybooks to teach mathematics is particularly effective. A recent review found that storybooks and talking about maths had a significant impact on attainment.

On average, children involved in communication and language approaches make seven months of additional progress in a year.

Story Time Maths is being piloted at Dane Bank Primary School in Tameside. During the first year, staff at the school will work with parents and teachers to develop a complete curriculum. In year two, this will be introduced into a further ten schools in Greater Manchester.

Year three will see the project rolled out into further schools, meaning an estimated 1,770 early years children will benefit.

Training in early maths will be offered to all schools involved, creating a hub of expert practitioners in the North West.

It is also planned to work with libraries and baby and toddler groups to create bespoke packages for groups outside of school.

SHINE has awarded almost £85,000 to Dane Bank to enable the project to happen.

The funding has enabled project lead Helen Clarke – working in collaboration with the school’s nursery teacher and early years lead – to begin crafting a curriculum and training programme based on established evidence.

“We’ve looked at what works best for nurseries and studied the research – including a lot of the work carried out by Stanford University in America – into how storybooks can be a really good driver of early maths.”

Helen says the research shows how language and maths are strongly connected in a child’s early years.

“Maths can really help develop language and vice versa,” she said. It also helps with self-regulation.

“The new curriculum will have a focus on school readiness and getting children prepared for starting reception. However, it won’t simply replicate what is taught in reception, which is what many schemes do. This is a bottom-up nursery approach.”

Rather than choosing books about numbers, or maths, the project focuses on more general books, with engaging content.

“We have picked out some really high-quality stories and have pulled the maths from them,” Helen explains.

“We’re not trying to force maths into this. We’re not just asking children to count the number of things they can see on a page – we have looked for books in which key maths ideas are naturally embedded.”

“It’s important that these books contain rich, high-quality language, because here in Tameside, and across Greater Manchester, language is one of the biggest barriers to school readiness.”

We’re showing parents that it’s not about being able to count from 1 to 10. Talking about maths means being aware of what’s around you and spotting those natural opportunities for talk, rather than constructing forced situations.

Helen Clarke Deputy Headteacher, Dane Bank Primary School

Training resources developed around each story include planning sheets for practitioners that highlight the key vocabulary and link it to how children develop and learn. Also included are some suggested connected activities and a task that can be assessed.

“Within each of those activities, we’ll include suggested questions for the teaching assistant or teacher to pull out the maths learning from the child,” said Helen.

“This is not just about some free books and a few new ideas, it’s about changing mindsets of how maths is taught in the early years.”

Parents learn similar techniques at half-termly workshops and are encouraged to follow up with activities at home.

At the sessions, teachers share the evidence behind the techniques, to tackle some of the misconceptions they may have about maths.

“We’re showing parents that it’s not about being able to count from 1 to 10. Talking about maths means being aware of what’s around you and spotting those natural opportunities for talk, rather than constructing forced situations.”

For instance, a recent session was based on the acclaimed book Jasper’s Beanstalk. Parents were encouraged to talk with their children about measuring height and length when reading about the growing beanstalk in the book.

Afterwards, each child received a copy of the book and a bean to take home and plant. Parents were then encouraged to help their children measure the bean plant as it grew, take pictures, and send them to us.

“It acts as confirmation for us that maths talk is now extending into the home, said Helen.

“It’s working. We’re debunking myths and they’re actually talking about maths with their children.

“And anecdotally, we can see an impact already, but we want to verify that with some hard data.”

Helen says the funding from SHINE has “made a massive difference” to the school.

She is excited to expand the project into new schools and get other teachers “really fired up about early maths”.

SHINE CEO Fiona Spellman said: “Maths is a subject where a lack of confidence can really hold pupils back. We’re proud to support this project, which aims to embed positive experiences with maths right from the earliest stage of school.”