Making the most of stories and rhymes to explore maths ideas

Stories and rhymes to explore maths

By Rachel Hussain.

Author Bio

Rachel Hussain headshotI’ve worked in many schools and roles over the years and teaching creatively, with the child always at the centre of learning, has been the driving force of my career. I’ve always tried to live my values of compassion, empathy, mindfulness, kindness and good humour every day and shared these with the children in my care.  

My Early Years research, undertaken as part of my MEd, has been used daily in my classroom and it also feeds into my Numicon work. 

I have really enjoyed using skills and knowledge learned as a teacher, researcher and musician to work on a number of publications with colleagues who developed Numicon.  I especially love composing simple songs for children to support their language and vocabulary development, as in my book “Numicon at the Seaside”.  

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) Development Matters guidance 2021 (p21), highlights the huge importance of sharing books with children and providing further experiences to support them in developing their language and vocabulary across all areas of learning. Numicon has responded to the new emphasis on stories, non-fiction poems and rhymes by weaving them into the Numicon Firm Foundations Revised Edition teaching programme, providing even richer opportunities for children. Each two-weekly activity card suggests ways of using stories, songs and rhymes within a given theme. A unique feature of this programme is that it is full of ideas for activities for teachers to provide throughout the early years setting, for children to experience maths in a practical and meaningful way.

Using stories and rhymes in maths

Children love listening to and taking part in stories and rhymes, but have you thought about how you can naturally introduce maths vocabulary through stories? Children’s responses to, and discussions of, stories can help you assess how their maths is developing. Here are some ideas about how you can observe and listen out for children using maths language independently as they use and develop ideas from story in their play.

Choosing books

Traditional stories such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears provide rich opportunities for exploring maths ideas. Once children are familiar with them, they can adapt them to create stories using their own experiences reflecting diversity in a natural way.

Top tip: Set up a box of favourite collections, including stories, non-fiction, poems and rhymes, to encourage children to share them again and again with their friends.

Getting ready

Bears having a picnic

When you prepare your story session, choose the maths vocabulary/ideas, resources and questions which will make the most of the story and keep children engaged. Numicon Firm Foundations helps you by suggesting key maths ideas, vocabulary/terms, resources and questions throughout the programme. For example, using ‘The Three Bears’ theme when setting up role-play equipment to explore big and small, (Activity card 1), children have lots of opportunities to use the words for comparing size as they play together with the prepared resources.

Here are more suggestions using three different publications of Goldilocks and the Three Bears –

Goldilocks (Lift-the-Flap Fairy Tales); Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Ladybird First Favourite Tales); Goldilocks and the Three Bears (Usborne Picture Books):

  • Maths vocabulary and maths ideas: size – big, large, middle-sized, medium, small, tiny, little, smallest, counting, ordering, comparing and repeating patterns.
  • Questions: ‘What can you tell me about the bears?’ Responses may range from talking about what the bears are doing, to naming them and describing their size.
    ‘What do you notice about this bear’s clothes?’ Responses may include repeating patterns, for example ‘It has a stripy T-shirt with a red, white, red, white pattern’.
  • Supporting resources: toys/puppets representing characters, Numicon Shapes and three different sized bowls, spoons, chairs and beds.

Sharing the story

Children love listening to and creating different character’s voices, from deep booming bellows to high pitched squeals. Read and pause for children to join in repetitive phrases and ask questions to ensure participation. Choose a resource to support the children, for example, a character puppet to pose/answer questions. Introduce new maths words clearly, and as children join in, check they pronounce them accurately. It’s good to share a song or poem about the story at the end of the session to keep the language going.

Top tip: Keep sessions short and snappy, leaving children wanting more!

Sharing the story again

To keep children engaged, vary the focus of conversations and resources by:

  • Sequencing pictures.
  • Retell with puppets.
  • Talking about and compare toy characters.
  • Wearing a wig, hat or mask of a character for children to ask you questions.

Top tip: Have copies of the book and resources available for children to share freely with their friends.

Following up

Provide resources connected to the story to encourage play and talk in small groups.

Here are some ideas to follow up with Goldilocks and the Three Bears:

  • Different sized bowls/spoons to explore in dry and wet sand.
  • Different sized biscuit cutters, Numicon Shapes, numerals and play dough for children to cut out bears, order, make patterns (including Numicon Shapes patterns) and count.
  • Bear badges and different sized furniture, plates/bowls and cutlery in role-play.

Setting out resources/activities like those suggested, will provide practical and meaningful ways for children to really explore maths ideas, learn new words and use them as they play. I recommend Numicon Firm Foundations Revised Edition as a great place to start and we would love to know how you get on.