Bristol Early Years Research and Development

Bristol Early Years Research
Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development Life at Bristol Early Years Research and Development

The Research Team

Maths researcher Beth Beth has worked in a variety of settings within Early Years for 15 years. These include pre-school, Sure Start Children’s Centres, a Primary School and private day care where she is now based. She works with the 3-4 year olds, preparing them all for school and loves it! She has developed a deep interest in children’s mark making, in particular mathematical graphics, so is extremely excited and honoured to be part of this research project.

Helen Barnett maths researcherHelen Barnett is an Early Years teacher at Fallodon Playgroup. Fallodon Playgroup is a packaway setting that operates 5 mornings a week, term-time only. It is a very reflective practice, always striving to produce high quality early years provision.  Their first Ofsted visit after registration in April 2013 resulted in a ‘Good’ rating, the highest rating they could have achieved as a new registration and one they are very proud of. They have highly qualified staff, most of whom have or are working towards degrees and further degrees, and between them have a wealth of experience and years of working with children and young people.

Judy Burton maths researcherJudy Burton joined Harcourt Pre-School in November 2007 and is a Qualified Teacher.  She is a qualified teacher specialising in mathematical development. Her additional training at Harcourt includes: Leadership and Management, Supporting children with additional needs and Learning Language and Loving It. Judy enjoys observing the speed at which children learn, their interest in everything and their capacity for fun and laughter. Her particular interests are in early maths and emergent numeracy and supporting children in developing their own conflict resolution strategies.




Seeing the Maths

Seeing the Maths - Emma Butcher and Jo Morgan

Emma Butcher and Jo Morgan are supporting colleagues from the ‘Developing Maths Leaders’ course to undergo their own research at their setting. Each setting is focusing on an area of mathematics, but sharing the same outcome:

Are we seeing children’s mathematics happening all around us?

We all believe each child brings ‘funds of knowledge’ from their homes to explore at school and every child is a mathematician.

We are going to meet every term to talk about progress.

Beth at Fledglings Nursery is researching mathematical graphics and focusing on children under two years old.

Helen at Fallodon is focusing on the different ways children engage with mathematics. She feels imaginary play is important. Helen said ‘with imagination anything is possible.

Judy is going to focus on three children and present her findings in the format of case studies for each child, this will reflect their mathematics learning journey.  

Some interesting questions we have thought about so far…

  • Is mathematics being limited to fit within the EYFS?
  • Does Early Years Maths have a ceiling? If so, why? Where has this come from?
  • Assessment of mathematics – it can be harder to see how children are meeting statements so assessment tends to be something set up – do we need to look at how to assess mathematics in play based learning?
  • Are the statements in the EYFS actually understood in terms of play?
  • How does a child's mathematical understanding develop from infancy?
  • Is it harder to draw out mathematical understanding from some children than others?
  • How can we support parents with seeing their children’s own mathematical understanding?
  • How do we raise the profile of children’s mathematics with practitioners working in the early years?

For more information about the research project please contact Emma or Jo

Emma –

Jo –

Redcliffe Children's Centre and Nursery: data gathered for research into The beginnings of children’s mathematical graphics in early childhood. Maulfry Worthington.

Worthington, M. Draft title of doctorate: The genesis of mathematical semiosis in early childhood.

 This doctoral research analyses data from case studies of seven 3-4 year olds attending the maintained nursery at Redcliffe Children’s Centre in Bristol. It considers the children’s cultural mathematical knowledge of home and ways in which they adapt and extend this knowledge within their rich pretend play in the nursery. The research focuses particularly on the children’s own graphical communications of mathematics, highlighting ways in which the children make meaningful beginnings with the abstract symbolic language of mathematics and how these connect to the mathematical notations of ‘school’ mathematics. The study argues that meaningful social and cultural contexts such as pretend play provide potentially rich and sustained contexts for young children’s mathematics. The findings are likely to challenge current narrow ‘basic skills’ approaches in England.

Two doctoral papers for this ongoing research are attached below:

Worthington, M. and Van Oers, B. (2016) Pretend play and the cultural foundations of mathematics. European Early Childhood Research Association Journal. Online, 1-16.

 The aim of this study is to uncover the emergence of cultural mathematical understandings and communications in young children's spontaneous pretend play. It is based on Vygotskian cultural-historical perspectives and social-semiotic theory, informed by research into ‘funds of knowledge' and considers how children's informal knowledge of family practices enriches their play and cultural mathematical understandings. Longitudinal, ethnographic data were gathered in an inner-city mainstream nursery in the south-west of England. Data include written observation and graphics of seven children aged three to four years of age engaged in social pretend play. The findings reveal that many play episodes included aspects of mathematics and that these increased through the year: they show how the children's home cultural knowledge underpinned their pretend play and informed their mathematics. Where children are immersed in mathematical- and graphical-rich environments, bridging home and early childhood cultures becomes a natural feature of their pretend play.


Worthington, M. and Van Oers, B. (2016) Children’s social literacies: Meaning making and the emergence of graphical signs and texts in pretence. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 1-29.

This study builds on recent research into young children’s pretend play. Social literacy practices and events in which children engaged were investigated to reveal features of their meaning making. Data were collected from case studies of seven children aged three to four years in an inner-city maintained nursery school in southwest England, as part of a larger longitudinal ethnographic study. Data comprise written documentation of the children’s play and their visual representations, and the analysis follows an interpretive, social semiotic multimodal paradigm. The findings make a compelling case for greater appreciation of pretence as a potentially valuable context for the enculturation of literacies, highlighting the diversity and richness of children’s spontaneous meaning making and self-chosen literacy events. Informed by cultural and literacy practices of home and nursery, the children’s communications show how meanings and signs are carried across time, space and contexts. Rich and sustained play supported the children’s self-initiated literacies in which they explored a heterogeneous range of textual genres, revealing their developing semiotic understandings and expanding repertoire.

Read more on our Postgraduate Research page ...


Latest Tweets