Book Review: Juliet Robertson’s Messy Maths: A Playful, Outdoor Approach for Early Years

by | Dec 18, 2018

Messy Maths is an exciting exploration that unearths the wonder of maths through the natural environment. Juliet Robertson, the author of Messy Maths, shares her infectious enthusiasm for learning outside all year round. Her developmental approach incorporates child development theory that ensures children thrive and satisfy their intellectual, emotional and physical needs in the outdoors. Educators are provided with the means to facilitate maths play outdoors in practical ways, whether it be setting up an garden area that embeds maths into seasonal routines, or redesigning an outdoor space that takes into account features that can facilitate mathematical dialogue, explorations and investigations.

Robertson encourages educators to build upon what children are already doing through their play, their interests and what they like doing outside. She suggests that teachers take the time to observe children playing outdoors and to look at what they are doing through a mathematical lens. What is absolutely brilliant about the book is it’s easy-to-use and visually pleasing format. Teachers are provided with resource and vocabulary lists, explanatory photos that demonstrate the many learning ideas described throughout the book, a range of guiding questions to engage children in the activities, a bank of outdoor mathematical games and a selection of open-ended ideas for adapting to a range of contexts.

The authenticity of Messy Maths is reflected in the author’s experience as an outdoor educator. Robertson proposes that a mathematically rich environment is created by ensuring children have the freedom to play, investigate, question and experiment with their ideas using resources that have no fixed way of being used. These are often referred to as “loose parts”, and include natural items found in situ such as sand, water, mud, plant matter, as well as random objects, which help children learn that maths is all around them. Messy Maths is definitely student driven, which is evident in Roberston shifting the focus from what we are doing as teachers, to what our children know and demonstrate in their daily lives at home and in school.

Robertson further suggests that how adults respond to children regarding maths really counts, and advises teachers to actively show interest in, and enthusiasm for, maths. Her belief that everyone can achieve in maths comes alive through the ideas, resources, language use and fun-filled activities supporting the contention that “we can build confidence in maths concepts before children even perceive their play as mathematical, and in doing so we help to lessen, challenge or even prevent the development of negative connotation about the subject” and pass on a love of numbers.

Messy Maths is pure gold for teachers working with 2- to 6-year-old students, and supports current curriculum guidelines.

Bern Nicholls Bern Nicholls is an authentic and passionate learner who over the 
span of her career in education has consistently kept students at the centre of all her thinking and research. Read more articles by Bern Nicholls

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