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In the Revised Early Years Foundation Stage, Mathematics is broken down into two aspects:

  • Numbers
  • Shape, Space and Measures

Mathematics is all about understanding and using shape, space and measures and numbers to sole everyday problems. Helping children to enjoy mathematics is probably one of the most important things that adults can do so that children realise that mathematics is a way of finding things out and solving problems.

Mathematics will be developed through fun, practical activities, for example, setting up the role play area as a ‘Shoe Shop’ so that the children can match shoes, sort boxes, measure their feet, use money and a till. Activities such as these allow the development of mathematical language such as big, small, large/larger, how much? How many? Number songs, rhymes, stories, counting games and activities will all be used and the children will have access to a mathematical workstation where they can choose from a range of activities of a mathematical nature. We will use craft and model making, puzzles, feely bags as well as movement to develop understanding of shape. Children will be encouraged to use their own methods to problem solve – these skills are important and give them strong foundations for their future. When something has real meaning for a child they will learn about it.


Mathematics (M) is one of the four specific areas of learning in the EYFS framework. It involves providing children with opportunities to practise and improve their skills in counting on and counting back, and using numbers up to 20 to do simple addition and subtraction to solve simple problems.

Mathematics also involves children using everyday language to describe and compare size, weight, capacity, time, position, and distance. They are given opportunities to know, and talk about, patterns and the properties of flat and solid shapes.


Prime and specific areas of learning

  • The three prime areas of the EYFS are Personal, Social and Emotional Development (PSED), Physical Development (PD) AND Communication and Language (CL).
  • The four specific areas are Literacy (L), Mathematics (M), Understanding the World (UW) and Expressive Arts and Design (EAD).
  • The three prime areas should be the focus for practitioners working with the youngest children, as these form the basis for successful learning and progress in the four specific areas.
  • As children become older, the emphasis will shift towards a more equal focus on all areas of learning as children’s confidence and abilities increase.


Supporting young children’s development in shape, space and measures

Mathematics covers the area of learning and development which was previously called ‘Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy’ in the original EYFS framework.

This aspect of mathematics was also previously called ‘Shape, Space and Measures’.

Babies and children’s mathematical development occurs as they seek to make patterns, make connections, and recognise relationships as they learn about sorting and matching, and develop an understanding of shape, space and measures.

Practitioners can make the most of the mathematical potential of the outdoor environment by encouraging children to discover things about shape, distance, and measures through their physical play.



What quality looks like in practice

Practitioners have selected resources which will enable them to work with the children to develop their understanding of shapes and space. They use pop-up books with flaps of different shapes and sizes, puzzles which require the children to match different shaped pieces with the appropriate spaces, and sets of multisensory building blocks which are different shapes and colours.

Practitioners use everyday experiences as opportunities to use mathematical language which relates to shape, space, and measures, for example ‘big’, ‘little’, ‘top’, ‘bottom’, ‘next to’, ‘round’, ‘square’ , ‘up’, and ‘down’. Practitioners have provided a clear tray of resources which include translucent and transparent plastic shapes, soft glitter filled shapes, buttons of different shapes and sizes, reclaimed materials such as curtain rings, cotton reels and spools, and natural materials such as stones, shells and leaves.

Staff have made good use of the available space out of doors by providing a large sand play area and a big water tray. By giving children plenty of space the practitioners have been able to introduce a wide variety of containers of different shapes, sizes, and capacities to both the sand and water play.

This in turn provides a wealth of opportunities to introduce language appropriate to shape, space and measures including ‘full’, ‘empty’, ‘how much’, ‘how many’, ‘into’.

Practitioners make the most of opportunities to introduce transactional play, which involves the children in buying and selling, weighing and measuring, and organising daily routines. They are careful to make sure that the transactional play is of interest to both boys and girls by setting up a garage and carwash, a DIY or pet shop, as well as a café, supermarket, or shoe shop. By providing the resources for different types of role play, the practitioners can introduce handling money, making price lists, weighing, counting, and sorting items for sale, or keeping a diary or log book. By varying the nature of the transactional play available to the children, adults can model the use of a wide range of vocabulary connected to shape, space and measures.

To help the children begin to develop a sense of how times of the day are sequenced, the practitioners have worked with the children to produce a pictorial timetable of the sequence of events during the day. By referring to the pictorial timetable during the day, the practitioners are able to introduce and reinforce the use of everyday language relating to time.

Pathways, the patio, walls and fences, the arrangements of the raised flower beds, and the vegetable plot in the outdoor area of the setting all provide excellent examples to observe and talk about shapes and patterns. The practitioners encourage a variety of activities and games where the children use their physical and mathematical skills to follow, and give, directions. This is then built upon indoors using programmable toys.


Helping your child to understand shape, space and measures

There are lots of easy ways you can help your child to develop their skills with shape, space, and measures.

You could use the ideas below as starting points to help you do this.

Under twos

  • Play a game with your baby where you hide a toy under a cloth and encourage your baby to find it or, when s/he is older, tell you what it is.
  • Look out for books which show illustrations of different shapes or different shaped objects.
  • Help your baby to stack cups or boxes on top of each other.
  • Give your baby or toddler a shape sorter to play with – you might be able to borrow one from a toy library.
  • Provide a range of puzzles or jigsaws for your child to play with.
  • When you are out for a walk, talk to your child about the route you are taking – for example, we go straight along here, now we go round a corner, and then it is the end of our walk.
  • Watch how your toddler begins to learn about shape, space, and measures – putting things inside boxes or tins, or pouring water in and out of different containers at bath time.

Two- to three-year-olds

  • Choose library books which have stories and information about different shapes.
  • Shape dominoes, jigsaws, and puzzles in comics will all help children to recognise and understand shapes.
  • Make a collection of different buttons and keep them in a special tin – choose buttons of different sizes, shapes, weight, and with different numbers of holes – for your child to arrange, order, sort and count.
  • Help your child to begin to understand the pattern of the day by talking about ‘after breakfast or lunch’, ‘when you get home from nursery’ or ‘at bed time’.
  • With your three-year-old, play a shape hunting game around the house or when you are out for a walk.
  • Talk to your child about ‘how long’ things are, ‘how heavy’ or ‘how full or empty’.
  • Buy, or make, a height chart to measure how tall your child is and how much they have grown.

Four- to five-year-olds

  • Your child will benefit from a range of puzzles and games to play with – dominoes, snap cards, jigsaws, and building sets such as Lego – to further develop an understanding of shape and space.
  • Buy some sticky shapes or make some out of different scraps of paper with your child to create mosaic patterns and pictures.
  • Plan a trip to a museum, art gallery, or the library to find images which show different shapes and patterns from different cultures.
  • Use the stopwatch or timer on your mobile phone to see how long it takes to tidy up or get ready for bed.
  • Encourage your child to help you when you are cooking – weighing ingredients, measuring liquids, and setting the timer on the cooker.
  • Talk about the different shapes you make – rectangle, square, triangle – when you fold a tablecloth, newspaper or duvet cover.
  • When you are out for a walk play shape ‘I-Spy’, ‘I-Spy circles’, ‘I-Spy triangles’ and so on.