Education Endowment Foundation:Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1

Five recommendations to support practitioners in developing the maths skills of 3 – 7 year-olds

Improving Mathematics in the Early Years and Key Stage 1’ reviews the best available evidence to offer five recommendations for developing the maths skills of 3 – 7‑year olds. 

Recommendations include integrating maths into different activities throughout the day – for example, at registration and snack time – to familiarise children with maths language and make the most of the school day.

It also highlights that story and picture books can be a powerful tool for engaging children with basic maths concepts, while board games (such as Snakes and Ladders) are particularly beneficial to developing understanding of numbers.

Based on the best available international research – and drawing on the expertise of teachers and academics – this report is packed with examples and case studies to support practitioners.

Guidance Report

First Edition


School Phase

Early YearsPrimary

Develop practitioners’ understanding of how children learn mathematics

Professional development should be used to raise the quality of practitioners’ knowledge of mathematics, of children’s mathematical development, and of effective mathematical pedagogy.

Developmental progressions show us how children typically learn mathematical concepts and can inform teaching.

Practitioners should be aware that developing a secure grasp of early mathematical ideas takes time, and specific skills may emerge in different orders.

The development of self-regulation and metacognitive skills are linked to successful learning in early mathematics.


Dedicate time for children to learn mathematics and integrate mathematics throughout the day

Dedicate time to focus on mathematics each day.

Explore mathematics through different contexts, including storybooks, puzzles, songs, rhymes, puppet play, and games.

Make the most of moments throughout the day to highlight and use mathematics, for example, in daily routines, play activities, and other curriculum areas.

Seize chances to reinforce mathematical vocabulary.

Create opportunities for extended discussion of mathematical ideas with children.


Use manipulatives and representations to develop understanding

Manipulatives and representations can be powerful tools for supporting young children to engage with mathematical ideas.

Ensure that children understand the links between the manipulatives and the mathematical ideas they represent.

Ensure that there is a clear rationale for using a particular manipulative or representation to teach a specific mathematical concept.

Encourage children to represent problems in their own way, for example, with drawings and marks.

Use manipulatives and representations to encourage discussion about mathematics.

Encourage children to use their fingers – an important manipulative for children.


Ensure that teaching builds on what children already know

It is important to assess what children do, and do not, know in order to extend learning for all children.

A variety of methods should be used to assess children’s mathematical understanding, and practitioners should check what children know in a variety of contexts.

Carefully listen to children’s responses and consider the right questions to ask to reveal understanding.

Information collected should be used to inform next steps for teaching. Developmental progressions can be useful in informing decisions around what a child should learn next.


Use high quality targeted support to help all children learn mathematics

High quality, targeted support can provide effective extra support for children.

Small-group support is more likely to be effective when:

  • children with the greatest needs are supported by the most experienced staff;
  • training, support, and resources are provided for staff using targeted activities;
    sessions are brief and regular; and
  • explicit connections are made between targeted support and everyday activities or teaching.

Using an approach or programme that is evidence-based and has been independently evaluated is a good starting point.