CMNetwork E-bulletin: September/October 2016

    © Copyright M. Worthington & E. Carruthers 2012

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Letter or numeral-like - or exploring alphanumeric signs?

Between the ages of 3 – 4 years some children begin to represent the appearance of writing, using separate graphical signs that seem to imitate the appearance of letters or numerals.

Figure 1. Elizabeth was writing notes in the minibus, explaining ‘It says dear my friend Emma, come back soon dear Elizabeth.’ She included the first two letters of her name, with other signs that resemble letters, and captured what she knows of the conventions of communicating by letter (i.e. ‘Dear my friend Emma’ and ‘Come back soon’).

Figure 2. The early writing of children whose first language uses a different alphabet, also shows that they have captured something of the appearance of the written letters of their language (as here, in Arabic) Ayaan did when writing her name.

Children begin to explore and think about the similarities and differences between alphanumeric signs (i.e. letters of the alphabet and numerals) but this is not at all straightforward, and sometimes leads to numerals within written text, or letters in the place of numerals. These are not mistakes, but children working hard to understand the differences.

Figure 3 shows Elizabeth’s list of children in her group who had arrived that morning. She appears to have written several letter-like signs and a numeral ‘3’. There was no indication that she had counted three children.



  • Meaning making in socio-cultural contexts

  • Explorations with gestures, words, artefacts, marks, signs and symbols

  • GRAPHICACY: writing and children’s mathematical graphics

Writing and Mathematics
  • Exploring Symbols
Gallery 7: The emergence of graphic symbols and texts in pretend play
Gallery 8: Children's graphic symbols and texts in self-initiated contexts.


Latest publications:

Worthington, M. and Van Oers, B. (2016) Pretend Play and the cultural foundations of mathematics. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal 24 (1). 51-66.

Worthington, M. and Van Oers, B. (2015) Children’s social literacies: Meaning making and the emergence of graphical signs and texts in pretence. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy 16(1), 1-29.

Carruthers, E. (2015). Listening to children's mathematics in school. In B. Perry., A. Gervasoni and A. MacDonald. Eds. Mathematics and Transition to School - International Perspectives. Sydney, Australia: Springer.

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