Research School Network: Using storybooks to support Maths in Early Years and KS1 Exploring maths through different contexts


Using storybooks to support Maths in Early Years and KS1

Exploring maths through different contexts

by Aspirer Research School
on the

  • As the tension built, the nursery children’s eyes widened…would the fox get his dinner? We had already been introduced to his two sly eyes which were watching the three poor unwitting, sleeping hens. Those four padding paws continued past the five snug eggs. Where was Fox headed? Why was he so quiet…what might he see next?

    It will be six somethings next,’ a voice piped up.

    How do you know?’

    It’s 12345678910,’ came back the reply, the numbers running into each other until he reached the final number and that 10’ was given an extra emphasis. This was followed with a smile of achievement having recited the count sequence correctly.

    Recommendation 2 in the EEF Guidance Report , Improving Maths in the Early Years and Key Stage One’, recommends children explore maths through different contexts including storybooks, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppet play and games. It suggests that using storybooks to teach mathematics can be particularly effective through providing an opportunity for mathematical talk and questioning’.

    It is tempting to imagine that this is happening already in class. Early Years classrooms are, after all, full of books, puppets and puzzles. It is easy to lay your hands on a book to read and enjoy with a group of children. The Guidance Report makes it clear, however, that much of their evidence comes from studies where practitioners were explicitly supported in promoting mathematical discussion from the story, for example, by being provided with notecards displaying prompting questions and discussion points that they could use.’

    Take our book, for example, One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller’, by Kate Read; a traditional counting book with the narrative of a thriller. It is easy to pick it up, read it, have fun with the narrative, remember to point out the numbers and move on. Can we make the text work harder for us?

    As the book focusses on counting, we might refer to Gelman and Gallistel’s five counting principles: the one-to-one principle, the stable order principle, the cardinal principle, the abstraction principle and the order irrelevance principle. We might choose to use the storybook to focus the children’s attention on the stable order principle – that we say the number names in the same, expected order, we can say them over and over again, each time we are introduced to the next part of the story, we can predict what will come next. Alternatively, we might want to examine the abstraction principle in more detail– that we can still count the things even though we cannot pick them up and move them, indeed some of the counts are intangible, we can’t see six silent steps’, we have to imagine them. Without spending time considering how to draw children’s attention to these ideas, opportunities to develop mathematical talk and reasoning will inevitably pass us by.

    The Guidance Report recommends that practitioners plan how they will use storybook resources to discuss mathematical concepts.’ Taking time to consider the mathematical content and concepts introduced in the book and thinking ahead to plan for quality maths talk using prompts from the story is time well spent. The Guidance Report draws attention to the Development and Research in Early Maths Education (DREME) website. It not only recommends books which could be used to support children’s understanding of a variety of concepts, but also produces storybook guides to support effective use of books.

    And, yes, six somethings did come next, but you will have to read the book to find out if Fox did, indeed, get his dinner!

    Helen Wright
    Aspirer Research School ELE


    Development and Research in Early Maths Education (DREME). DREME Family Math: Reading Together.
    (Accessed 14 June 2022).

    EEF. (2020) Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage One. https://educationendowmentfoun….
    (Accessed 14 June 2022).

    Gelman, R., & Gallistel, C. R. (1978). The Child’s Understanding of Number. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Read, K. (2019) One Fox: A Counting Book Thriller. London: Two Hoots

More from the Aspirer Research School

Show all news

This website collects a number of cookies from its users for improving your overall experience of the site.Read more