Mathematics is an important part of learning for all children in the early years and receiving a good grounding in maths is an essential life skill. Our maths knowledge helps skills such as problem solving, understanding and using shapes and measure and developing spatial awareness. Within reception one of our many objectives is to ensure that all children develop firm mathematical foundations in a way that is engaging, and appropriate for their age. 

The cardinal value of a number refers to the quantity of things it represents, e.g. the numerosity, ‘howmanyness’, or ‘threeness’ of three. When children understand the cardinality of numbers, they know what the numbers mean in terms of knowing how many things they refer to.

Counting is one way of establishing how many things are in a group, because the last number you say tells you how many there are. Children enjoy learning the sequence of counting numbers long before they understand the cardinal values of the numbers. Subitising is another way of recognising how many there are, without counting.

Children need to know number names, initially to five, then ten, and extending to larger numbers, including crossing boundaries 19/20 and 29/30.

Counting back is a useful skill, but young children will find this harder because of the demand this places on the working memory.

Children need lots of opportunities to count things in irregular arrangements. For example, how many play people are at the dining table? How many cars have we got in the garage? These opportunities can also include counting things that cannot be seen, touched or moved.

Children need the opportunity to count out or ‘give’ a number of things from a larger group, not just to count the number that are there. This is to support them in focusing on the ‘stopping number’ which gives the cardinal value.

Subitising is recognising how many things are in a group without having to count them one by one. Children need opportunities to see regular arrangements of small quantities, e.g. a dice face, structured manipulatives, etc., and be encouraged to say the quantity represented. Children also need opportunities to recognise small amounts (up to five) when they are not in the ‘regular’ arrangement, e.g. small handfuls of objects.