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Light sabres

    William (4 years 6 months) is fascinated by 

Star Wars and often  plays out various scenes

with his friend. He has drawn a light sabre 

for each of his favourite characters from the 

Star Wars film. The colours are important; 

for example, red is for ‘Darth Maul’. 

    His teacher explained, "William draws 

hundreds of these pictures at the moment –

either of light sabres or bows and arrows

from the Lord of the Rings – they seem to

be linked to his  fascination with counting or

amounts and he will count all sorts of objects

again and again".


  • Taxonomy: Representing quantities that are counted
  • Counting and quantities









“Look! No chicken! You want mushroom?” 

     Buying, preparing, ordering and eating food 

together have significant roles in Shereen’s 

family. Drawing on her personal and  social 

knowledge of cafés, Shereen (AGE)

approached her friends for orders, making wavy, 

writing-like lines and a drawing of a fish and a 

mushroom in response. 

     After a while she returned to ask her teacher 

Emma, “what you want: rice, chocolate, cake, 

chicken?”  Emma said she didn’t want chicken and Shereen wrote a mark for “chicken” and drew

cross by it, clarifying,“It says “x” - no chicken.” 

     Later Emma said she would have chicken, but 

pointing to the “x” she had written, Shereen said,

“Look! No chicken! You want mushroom?” Then 

pointing to her drawing of a mushroom explained

“Look. A tick, that mean we got some.”  Shereen

used a range marks and signs to communicate her mathematical thinking about some and

and none, including drawings of a fish and 



  • Taxonomy: Explorations with signs and symbols
  • Quantities: some and none.      


Paper calculators

     This play began when Martin was playing

with real calculator: he seemed to be using it

as a digital game, pressing the buttons and commenting excitedly “Fighting games! Video


     It was Martin who first decided to use a small 

notebook to make ‘paper calculators’, explaining

as he tore off a sheet, “This is a different 

calculator with computer games on”. 

     Alfie (4 years, 3 months) watched Mason

use pages from a notebook to make ‘calculators’

and decided to join in. Having drawn shapes

on his page, Alfie ripped it off the pad and then

 made more symbols, saying,‘"6, 7, 8, 9, I’ve

done a number 10’", followed by a third sheet, 

announcing "9, 10, 11, 12."

     In twenty minutes, Alfie made a total of 

seven paper ‘calculators’. The enclosed shapes suggest the buttons on a calculator, and

the reversed ‘7’ signs suggest numerals. 


  • Taxonomy: Explorations with signs and symbols
  • Number sequences  







Stanley’s shoes

    Nine children were playing in the home corner,

and in the course of their play had removed their

shoes in order to dress up. At tidy-up-time, Kylie

asked, ”How many shoes will we need to find?"

suggesting they might find a way of finding out how many they needed to locate.

    Hannah (5 years, 5 months) decided to fetch some paper, and drew nine children. She

counted all their legs and then wrote ‘18’ at the foot of the paper.

     Stanley (5 years, 6 months) drew a horseshoe

shape to represent each pair of legs and feet. He

then counted in twos, writing the accumulating

twos beneath the ‘horseshoes’. He had omitted to

count the ‘feet’ of one horseshoe. At first totalling

them to ‘16’: (the children had been learning about

counting in twos the previous week). 

     When their teacher brought the children

together, to discuss their various methods, Stanley

quickly realised what he had done, and counted again – this time counting them all to arrive at his total of ‘18’.


  • Taxonomy: Explorations with signs and symbols;

          Representing quantities that are not  counted; 

          Counting continuously

  • Counting, counting in twos

One is a snail

     The delightful picture story book, One is a

Snail, Ten is a Crab (Pulley Sayre and Sayre, 2004)

uses pictures of snails, crabs, dogs and spiders – each with different numbers of feet - to support counting to 100.

   After sharing the book with the children, their

 teacher Karen suggested that they choose

their own number and work out which combination

of creatures’ legs would total that number. 

     Shimae (4 years, 6 months) had decided to "find 

out what is 100’. She wrote the number ‘100’ and 

as she progressed, counted the legs she’d drawn. 

After a while she said, "This is hard now, all this 

counting. Can you help me?"

     So as Shimae drew, an adult counted with her,

Shimae noting the total she counted each time. 

When she’d reached counting to ‘one hundred’ she wrote: "6 spidr 3 insec 1 pursn 1 well (whale) 1 pig."

     Other children counted in multiples, counted on, 

counted back, estimated, used repeated addition, 

subtraction and multiplication. 


  • Taxonomy: Representing quantities that are counted
  • Numbers, counting, addition















“My Dad’s got 5 eyes!”

Shakkai and his friend were drawing pictures

of their dads. Shakkai (4 years, 10 months)

drew four eyes on his dad’s face, and the

boys laughed uproariously at their drawings. 

Shakkai said, “I’m going to add another eye.

Look! He has five now!”


  • Taxonomy: Representing quantities that are counted 
  • Counting in twos