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* Letter-like signs


A cheque for £500.00

     When playing builders, Isaac (4 years, 6 months), wrote a reversed and 

 inverted letter “a” on a pretend cheque,

to signify “£500.00.” Isaac wrote a letter-like sign he knew, generated by those he’s seen his teacher model and from his peers’ writing.


  • Taxonomy - written  number and quantities: Early written numerals
  • Money


Kiera (5 years, 4 months), was playing doctors with her friends Tanny and Lauren. She gave some medicine to Tanny, explaining that the number on the cup

said "80. It tells how much medicine you are giving."

   Lauren also enjoyed being a mummy,

using the phone and making a list of 'phone

numbers. She wrote and read "300" for the

doctor, and "37", this time saying "three

and seven for Oma [Grandma]."  






A visit to the Baby ( children 4-5 years)

     Visiting the locacl Baby Clinic, the children watched as

Health Visitors weighed babies and recorded their weights

on charts and in a book, and listened to what whas said

about their progress. On their return to  school some rich

pretend play developed spontaneously. This was supported

by a real set of baby weighing scales that the clinic no longer

used, since they had changed to digital scales.

     Over several days, a piece of paper on which one child

made marks and signs was added to by others. Their

graphics show that:

  • They understood that adult use written marks and

         symbols for specific purposes

  •  They drew on their knowledge of symbols, including

         approximations of letters and numerals they had seen.

     Some children used the initial letter of their name or their

age number to stand for what they said. During their play the

children freely used language of measurement such as "heavy",

"this big","three long" and "getting bigger" and general

comments and questions such as ‘How’s your baby doing?’ as

they weighed dolls and teddies.

     The conversations between health professionals and

mothers and their purposeful writing had made an impression

and the children were able to integrate their experiences into

their play.


  • Taxonomy - written number and quantities: 

​​​​​​​        Explorations with signs and symbols

  • Weighing











Adding grapes               

     We collected some examples of children’s written

explanations and written methods entirely in words. In this

example John (5 years, 5 months) wrote "2 grapes’, there

is [are] two. 4 grapes, there is (are) four. 6 [altogether]".

     His addition calculation is a form of narrative, relating a

sequence of events or numbers. John has used his emergent

writing to communicate his thinking about a calculation


  • Taxonomy - Calculations: children's own methods: 

         Symbolic operations with small numbers; experimenting

         with signs and symbols

  • Calculations, addition                              


Playing shops

Amelia (3 years, 4 months) was playing shops with three

friends, busy organising and chatting. Referring to her

signs as “chocolate biscuits, rice pops and sausages”,

she appeared to to be thinking about food she liked to

eat, and items that her mum bought when they went to

the supermarket together.


  • Taxonomy - - written number and quantities:  

​​​​​​​         Explorations with signs and symbols

  • Itemising