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Literacy and Mathematics: Learning through ‘play’ in the Infant School

Nicole Tripp, Primary Mathematics Coach, UWCSEA East
Olivia White, Primary Literacy Coach, East Campus
16 June 2017

In the Infant School, we value each child’s natural desire to play and learn. A child’s curiosity leads to learning through experimentation and discovery, and play is a vehicle for this inquiry. This play, coupled with intentional teaching and a purposeful environment, means learning is planned for, listened to, documented, and analysed. Teaching and learning in the East Infant School are guided by our ‘Image of the Child’ (Dunia, December 2016), carefully articulated curriculum, and Learning Principles, which set the conditions for learning to happen.

In Literacy and Mathematics, students engage with authentic learning experiences that help them develop the foundational skills needed throughout their education. While some might imagine the teaching of Literacy and Mathematics to be quite different, we have found that they share many similarities. Both strive for comprehension, fluency and accuracy. Both invite students to explain their thinking and process, to be open to others’ ideas, and to recognise that there are often many ways to answer a question, build a theory, or find a solution.


Literacy education focuses on the essential skills of writing, reading, listening, and speaking. Much of writing in the early years involves storytelling and writing about the real world. Students’ first ‘written’ stories are often represented as mark making. Making marks, ‘inventing’ spelling, and creative illustration are signs that the concept of the written word is forming and meaning-making is happening. As the skills of writing develop, marks take on characteristics of the written word. Teachers build on children’s understanding of text, the writing process, and each child’s own image as a writer. Children are given choice in what they write, time to practice, and feedback as they begin to own their writing.

A love of reading is nurtured through a range of experiences. Decoding text is only part of the reader’s experience; much time is spent discussing books, authors, and the meaning behind texts. Reading aloud to students happens daily, and the children see themselves as readers well before decoding the first word. They pick up books, tell stories, and use illustrations to understand character, setting and plot. Early readers are figuring out how books work and exploring texts to make sense of the written word. As with writing, teachers facilitate the ‘image of the child as a reader’ in a classroom culture that values reading and gives each child the confidence to take risks.

Listening and speaking skills are vital for learning to read and write. Students have opportunities to respond to texts, talk about their learning, and articulate their thinking. Children are encouraged to listen to the ideas and opinions of others and share their own thinking and understandings. Students learn to interact appropriately with others, share their opinions, receive and respond to feedback, and show respect and consideration as they collaborate with others.


In order to develop a deep sustainable understanding in Mathematics, we strive to ensure that children go through three stages: concrete or ‘doing’, pictorial or ‘seeing’ and finally, abstract or symbolic. Students come to understand the concepts through activities that develop skills in number sense, measurement, patterning, and geometry.

Number sense includes an understanding of symbols, counting, patterns, quantity and operations (+ - x ÷). Students require an understanding of how numbers can be taken apart and put together in different ways. In order to have strong number sense, skills such as estimation, problem solving and perseverance are essential. Children have access to a variety of tools and materials which help to develop and deepen their mathematical understandings. Collaborative number games are used for consolidation and to encourage mathematical discussions. Being able to articulate their thinking and process is essential.

Through measurement learning experiences students use comparative language to build, create and experiment. In Infant classes, we typically use non-standard units to measure length, weight, volume and area. A water table supports learning about volume, while weighing scales allow children to compare and measure differences in weight.

Provocations for learning patterning encourage students to identify, build and explain patterns using a variety of media. Students are always looking for patterns – in language, art, nature and numbers. Everyday items such as stickers, blocks, and pebbles as well as numbers, are used to build this understanding.

Through geometry in the form of block play, students explore concepts of measurement, balance, shape, pattern, size, adding, subtracting and spatial awareness. Block play allows students to freely explore and manipulate construction materials, which helps build the foundation for many future mathematics-related skills and understandings.

So when you walk into our Infant learning spaces and see ‘play’ happening, know that students are inquiring and investigating their world and learning the habits of learning. They are learning to be social, to be independent, and to solve problems. Whether we call it Reggio-inspired, play-based, or child-centred, we are proud to say that our children are learning through play.