There is rising concern in research and practice to improve early years mathematics education as initial mathematical mastery sets the foundation for future academic success. In response to these concerns, this study used observational data from 20 kindergarten classrooms to understand current pedagogies teachers use for mathematics. In particular, our study is situated in kindergarten classrooms that promote play as a dominant pedagogical approach as research and policies endorse play as an effective teaching strategy for early learners. However, research also suggests that teachers express challenges implementing novel pedagogies, such as play, and use various forms of instruction when teaching math. Results showed teachers used four mathematics pedagogies (free play, guided play, teacher-directed play, and direct instruction). The enactment of these pedagogies gave rise to three classroom pedagogical orientations: child-controlled, shared-control, or teacher-controlled math contexts, indicating that combinations of play and direct instruction pedagogies are used to teach math in kindergarten.
This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.
Buy single article
Instant access to the full article PDF.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Subscribe to journal
Immediate online access to all issues from 2019. Subscription will auto renew annually.
Tax calculation will be finalised during checkout.
Alfieri, L., Brooks, P. J., Aldrich, N. J., & Tenenbaum, H. R. (2011). Does discovery-based instruction enhance learning? Journal of Educational Psychology, 103, 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0021017.
Almulla, M. A. (2015). An investigation of teachers’ perceptions of the effects of class size on teaching. International Education Studies, 8(12), 33–42. https://doi.org/10.5539/ies.v8n12p33.
Bonawitz, E., Shafto, P., Gweon, H., Goodman, N. D., Spelke, E., & Schulz, L. (2011). The double-edged sword of pedagogy: Instruction limits spontaneous exploration and discovery. Cognition, 120, 322–330. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cognition.2010.10.001.
Cohrssen, C., Church, A., & Tayler, C. (2016). Play-based mathematics activities as a resource for changing educator attitudes and practice. SAGE Open, 6(2), 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244016649010.
Doabler, C. T., & Fien, H. (2013). Explicit mathematics instruction: What teachers can do for teaching students with mathematics difficulties. Intervention in School and Clinic, 48(5), 276–285. https://doi.org/10.1177/1053451212473151.
Duncan, F. J., Dowsett, C. J., Claessent, A., Magnuson, K., Huston, A. C., Klebanove, P., … Japel, C. (2007). School readiness and later achievement. Developmental Psychology, 43(6), 1428–1446. https://doi.org/10.1037/0012-1622.214.171.1248.
Engelmann, S., Becker, W. C., Carnine, D., & Rhine, R. (1981). The direct instruction model. Encouraging change in America’s schools: A decade of experimentation. New York: Academic Press.
Fisher, K. R., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Newcombe, N., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Taking shape: Supporting preschoolers’ acquisition of geometric knowledge though guided play. Child Development, 84(6), 1872–1878. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdev.12091.
Ginsburg, H. (2006). Playful mathematics and mathematical play: A guide for early education. In D. G. Singer, R. M. Golinkoff, & K. Hirsh-Pasek (Eds.), Play = Learning: How play motivates and enhances children’s cognitive and social-emotional growth (pp. 145–168). New York: Oxford University Press.
Gmitrová, V., Podhajecká, M., & Gmitrov, J. (2009). Children’s play preferences: Implications for the preschool education. Early Child Development and Care, 179(3), 339–351. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430601101883.
Gopnik, A. (2012). Scientific thinking in young children: Theoretical advances, empirical research, and policy implications. Science, 337(6102), 1623–1627. https://doi.org/10.1126/science.1223416.
Griffin, S. (2004). Number worlds: A research-based mathematics program for young children. In D. H. Clements, J. Sarama, & A.-M. DiBiase (Eds.), Engaging young children in mathematics: Standards for early childhood mathematics education (pp. 325–342). Washington, DC: National Academic Press
Hart, C. H., Burts, D. C., Durland, M. A., Charlesworth, R., DeWolf, M., & Fleege, P. O. (1998). Stress behaviors and activity type participation of preschoolers in more and less developmentally appropriate classrooms: SES and sex differences. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 12, 176–196.
Kamii, K., & Housman, L. B. (2000). Young children reinvent arithmetic: Implications of Piaget’s theory (2nd ed.). New York: Teacher’s College Press.
Kapur, M. (2010). Productive failure in mathematical problem solving. Instructional Science, 38, 523–550. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11251-009-9093-x.
Klahr, D. (2009). “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heavens”: What about direct instruction? In S. Tobias & T. M. Duffy (Eds.), Constructivist theory applied to instruction: Success or failure? (pp. 291–310). New York: Taylor & Francis.
Ontario Ministry of Education (OME). (2016). The kindergarten program. Toronto: Queen’s Printer for Ontario.
Parten, M. B. (1933). Social play among preschool children. The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 28(2), 136–147. https://doi.org/10.1037/h0073939.
Patton, M. Q. (2014). Qualitative research and evaluation methods (4th ed.). London: Sage.
Pellegrini, A., & Smith, P. (1998). Physical activity play: The nature and function of a neglected aspect of play. Child Development, 69(3), 577–598. https://doi.org/10.2307/1132187.
Piaget, J. (1951). Play, dreams, and imitation in childhood. London: W. Heinemann.
Presser, A. L., Ginsburg, H., & Ertle, B. (2015). Big math for little kids: The effectiveness of a preschool and kindergarten mathematics curriculum. Early Education and Development, 26, 399–426.
Pyle, A., & Danniels, E. (2017). A continuum of play-based learning: The role of the teacher in play-based pedagogy and the fear of hijacking play. Early Education and Development, 28(3), 274–289. https://doi.org/10.1080/10409289.2016.1220771.
Pyle, A., Poliszczuk, D., & Danniels, E. (2018). The challenges of promoting literacy integration within a play-based learning kindergarten program: Teacher perspectives and implementation. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 32(2), 219–233. https://doi.org/10.1080/02568543.2017.1416006.
Samara, J., & Clements, D. H. (2009). Building blocks and cognitive building blocks. Playing to know the world mathematically. American Journal of Play, 1, 213–337.
Small, M. (2013). Making math meaningful. Toronto: Nelson.
Stipek, D. (2017). Playful math instruction in the context of standards and accountability. Young Children, 72(3), 8–12.
Stokke, A. (2015). What to do About Canada’s Declining Math Scores. Commentary No. 427. Toronto ON: C. D. Howe Institute. Retrieved from https://www.cdhowe.org/sites/default/files/attachments/research_papers/mixed/commentary_427.pdf.
Tal, C., Fares, E., Azmi, R., & Wabb, W. (2008). Beyond learning and teaching in preschool free-play centers in Daliat el-Carmel-Isfiya. Early Childhood Education Journal, 36, 281–289. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-008-0285-9.
Turnbull, J., & Jenvey, V. B. (2006). Criteria used by adults and children to categorize subtypes of play. Early Child Development and Care, 176(5), 539–551. https://doi.org/10.1080/03004430500258172.
Wallerstedt, C., & Pramling, N. (2012). Learning to play in a goal-directed practice. Early Years: An International Research Journal, 32(1), 5–15. https://doi.org/10.1080/09575146.2011.593028.
Weisberg, D. S., Hirsh-Pasek, K., & Golinkoff, R. M. (2013). Guided play: Where curricular goals meet a playful pedagogy. Mind, Brain & Education, 7(2), 104–112. https://doi.org/10.1111/mbe.12015.
The authors acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant No. #435-2015-0168).
Conflict of interest
The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
About this article
Cite this article
Wickstrom, H., Pyle, A. & DeLuca, C. Does Theory Translate into Practice? An Observational Study of Current Mathematics Pedagogies in Play-Based Kindergarten. Early Childhood Educ J 47, 287–295 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-018-00925-1