A socio-cultural understanding of young children’s perspectives represented through mathematical graphics in their play

Jenny Dwyer, Charles Sturt University, NSW, Australia (

Background:  The future of early childhood mathematics and its inclusion into young children’s play has become an important educative discussion. In recent years, this attention has recognised young children’s mathematical capabilities. This relates to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and children’s rights to have their mathematical capabilities and perspectives recognised and understood. One way of understanding what children know about mathematics and to seek their perspectives is through mathematical graphics embedded in their play.

Aim: The aim of this presentation is to review existing literature in understanding the significance of how children’s social and cultural lives influence and shape mathematical graphics during play, and how this forms part of children’s mathematical journey.

Method: This research involves a narrative review of the literature about early childhood mathematics and children’s mathematical drawings, interrogating it through the cultural-historical theory to identify existing key themes.  

Results: The results of the literature review highlight the often over-looked area of the development of children’s mathematical conceptual knowledge as offered to us through their graphical drawings embedded within their play intentions. The literature review highlights the importance of children’s socio-cultural play perspectives and their right to be valued for their participation in research within their unique cultural environments.

Conclusions: The literature review identified that further study into children’s mathematical graphics and the cultural uses within their play is needed.   

Implications for children: I would love to share with you a wonderful idea about how children draw pictures when they play. Do you use drawings when you play with your friends? Did you know that these drawings can represent lots of mathematical ideas and this helps adults to learn what you know?

Implications for families: Do you often notice how your children create drawings to use in their play? Often these drawings represent their mathematical play ideas, and their knowledge of mathematics. This can be seen as the beginning of mathematical literacy. Children make these drawings, initially as squiggles, to re-enact their social interactions and daily lives. We can help our children’s early mathematical skills by talking to them about their drawings and their mathematical perspectives.

Implications for practitioners:

Have you ever noticed how sometimes children use drawings within their play and that they often represent mathematical ideas and knowledge? You may see them initially start as a squiggly line, and then progress to more recognisable symbols. These mathematical graphics used within children’s play have powerful implications for understanding the standardised abstract symbols used at school.

Key words: early childhood mathematics, children’s graphics, play intentions, cultural-historical influences, children’s rights, children’s perspectives.

This presentation relates to the following United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: