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Engaging Families as Children's First Mathematics Educators

Sivanes Phillipson, Ann Gervasoni, and Peter Sullivan, editors
Publication Date: 
Number of Pages: 
Early Mathematics Learning and Development
[Reviewed by
Katherine Safford-Ramus
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This book geminated from an early childhood numeracy project in Australia titled Numeracy@Home. That project focused on the role that socio-economic background played in the development of mathematics concepts in children prior to their enrollment in elementary school. In particular, the research explored the impact of parents and family life on that development. As a result, half of the chapters are authored by Australian mathematics educators and the other half are geographically diffused. This is not, however, meant to imply that the findings and conclusions are somehow skewed. Applications for the conclusions are global and relevant to any culture whose educational system has an elementary/secondary school organization with students beginning formal education at five or six years of age.

Disregarding the introductory and concluding chapters (Parts I and V), the book comprises three parts. The first examines general pedagogical actions that support mathematical learning for pre-school children. Five chapters explore key issues in early childhood experiences that help or hinder the development of mathematical learning in the years from infancy to age five. The second part focuses on the home environment and the activities and experiences parents can, or already do, provide that promote the growth of mathematical knowledge in their children. The third part reports research that is specific to partnerships between pre-school and home whose goal is to advance the mathematics education of pre-schoolers.

As a mathematics teacher educator I found this book rich in material that I can use to inform my pre-service teachers’ appreciation of the earliest mathematical experiences of the children they will teach. Many of the students who enroll in elementary education programs are wary of mathematics and hold the belief that if they teach in the P-2 grades they can escape from having to confront serious mathematics. This book reinforces the fact that this is a misguided belief and that conceptual knowledge of mathematics is important from infancy education upward.

Certainly, therefore, the volume should be of interest to mathematics teacher educators. It casts a wider net, however, and has import for early childhood teacher educators whose focus is not restricted to mathematics.

A third potential audience, although one whom I doubt will be likely to happen upon the volume, is parents of young children. The book contains many activities and references to common materials and games that can be effortlessly incorporated into daily family activities. In fact, the most striking finding from multiple studies reported in the book is that it is the informal and playful mathematical experiences that help children develop number sense during those early years. Like literacy, numeracy develops through making visible and using mathematics everyday in conversation and carrying out the simple tasks of a household.

Katherine Safford-Ramus is a Professor of Mathematics at Saint Peter’s University. She holds a doctorate in Mathematics Education from Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Kathy Safford has been teaching mathematics at the tertiary level for more than 30 years. From October 2005 to October 2006, Dr. Safford served as the co-director of the Adult Numeracy Initiative, a project of the United States Office of Vocational and Adult Education. She is the author of Unlatching the Gate: Helping Adult Students Learn Mathematics.

See the table of contents in the publisher's webpage.