Supporting Math Learning

In the sandbox, a pair of four year old children explore capacity by gleefully counting how many scoops will fill their green and pink pails.

“I think more sand will fit in this big pail! I bet we could put one hundred scoops!”
“Yeah! Maybe even more than one hundred!” Like one hundred- forty- zillion!
“That’s SO much!”

Watch children explore during play and very quickly you will see them naturally demonstrate mathematical behaviour.  They count steps on the playground, sort the pebbles they collect during recess and immediately point out when someone else has more play-dough than they do! Children enter our classrooms with varied understandings of mathematical processes.  It is our job to figure out what they know and then help move forward by providing a variety of rich learning experiences.

A Balanced Approach

The Kindergarten Program reminds us that while children DO learn a lot through play, it is not enough for meaningful math development to occur. “Intentional, purposeful teacher interactions are necessary to ensure that mathematical learning is maximized during play.” (Kindergarten Program, 2016)

In our classroom, we strive for balance by providing students with a continuum of learning opportunities. In a whole group setting, we build math instruction into our routines and transitions through activities like number talks.  In small groups, we provide rich learning tasks through games and activities that are open ended and encourage students to explain their thinking.  During table top centres, we thoughtfully choose materials that invite students to explore particular concepts.  In play, we circulate throughout the room to observe and document the math learning we see as students consolidate and practice all that they have learned.

In the article, “Making Space for Students to Think Mathematically” the authors point to research that highlights how important adopting an inquiry stance is to math instruction.  Rather than think about inquiry as something we do, we need to remember inquiry is a process we use in order to clarify and consolidate our understanding.   When we ask good questions that prompt students to explain their thinking, we not only develop children’s ability to communicate and think critically, we also begin to develop a “math talk” community where students become “sources of mathematical ideas.”

Finally, we recognize that how students feel about themselves as learners, plays a significant role in how they approach tasks like problem solving and risk taking.  We honour our students by celebrating wherever they are in their math journey.


Surrtamm, C., Quigley, B., & Lazarus, J. (2016). Making space for students to think mathematically.
Retrieved 8 November 2017, from

The kindergarten program. (2016). Retrieved 8 November 2017, from

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