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Discrete, adult-led mathematics sessions are taught in a variety of ways in early years settings.  Some are daily small group times and others are daily lessons.  The same underpinning principles apply:

  • Over a series of sessions, children should be provided with multiple representations of the same key concept (big idea)
  • Include the use of concrete objects, pictures and informal jottings (used by adult and child)
  • Over time, sessions should explore the key concept (big idea) in several different contexts
  • Practitioners should plan to continue working on the same mathematical idea over several weeks to develop children’s depth of understanding
  • Provide opportunities to revisit, extend and apply mathematical thinking within child-initiated play
  • Expectation that sessions are usually for mixed ‘ability’ groups



The NCETM six areas of early years mathematics provide a developmental progression for each area which can be downloaded as a pdf to support planning and assessment.  NRich’s early years section has many excellent ideas for planning and some articles to support practitioners too.  Some settings choose to teach mathematics through snack time as a discrete adult-led session and others as a free-flow activity.   Instructions for how to do mathematical snack times are available here. There is also a video to accompany these instructions here.

All early years settings plan in different ways.  One work group at East Midlands West’ trialled using this planning format for their short adult-led maths sessions.  It does not include the days of the week so that it can be used over flexible time frames to ensure plenty of opportunity for revisiting and applying and to help prevent practitioners not feel pressured to move on too quickly.  The work group participants used this plan to evaluate and review the format.  They also used this overview of big ideas/key concepts in early years mathematics to help them plan in the longer term.


Most hub CPD events for early years include an element of planning (as widely conceptualised as preparation for learning).

Click here to view all upcoming early years CPD & Events…