Teachers’ Pedagogical Mathematical Awareness in Swedish Early Childhood Education

Björklund, C. & Barendregt, W.
Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 60(3), 359-377.


The purpose of this study is to provide an overview of early childhood teachers' pedagogical mathematical awareness. The authors investigate whether teachers consider the broad scope of topics covered by early mathematical learning as part of their early childhood education and care (ECEC). The study focusses on four mathematical aspects: number sense and numerical principles as well as geometrical shapes and patterns (spatial aspect).


The authors conclude that the teachers encourage the children to explore mathematics and support the children in their own initiatives. However, the study shows limitations in the teachers' awareness of spatial aspects and in their work with specific goal-oriented mathematical activities.

The analysis shows that the teachers consider mathematics as learning content. They actively plan to work with mathematical learning, and the children are supported in exploring mathematical aspects – also when the planned activity is not targeted at mathematical learning. The authors assess that such practice is in accordance with the curriculum which stresses that early learning should be characterised by integration of learning areas, thematic work and support of the child's own initiative. The teachers mainly work with mathematics as it occurs in the children's self-initiated activities, whereas exploring a specific mathematical principle in a targeted activity is much more rare.

Even though the teachers often communicate with the children about mathematical phenomena, they do not use the ECEC setting as a point of departure to make the children aware of specific mathematical aspects. Overall, the authors assess that material is available in the ECEC setting to initiate explorative, creative play that stimulates the children's mathematical development. However, the authors find that there is a lack of targeted problematisation of the mathematical aspects offered by the ECEC setting. Targeted problematisation means to explore, reflect on and search for explanations to specific mathematical phenomena.

The study shows that the teachers perceive mathematics as a pedagogical focus area, but their understanding of mathematics does not necessarily include spatial aspects, including pattern recognition (pre-algebraic thinking). Furthermore, only few teachers state that their ECEC centre has visible number sequences. The teachers describe that they work with verbal number sequences, where they count out loud with the children and encourage the children to count themselves. More rarely, the teachers consciously vary the number sequences, for example, by introducing other sequences (10, 9, 8 … or 2, 4, 6 …).


The authors distributed a questionnaire to 147 early childhood teachers who worked with children aged 1-6 years. The questions focussed on the teachers' practice in connection with mathematical learning in the ECEC centre. A total of 79% of the teachers responded to the questionnaire. Based on the questionnaire, the authors conducted a descriptive statistical analysis to provide an overview of the teachers' pedagogical mathematical awareness.


Björklund, C. & Barendregt, W. (2016). Teachers’ Pedagogical Mathematical Awareness in Swedish Early Childhood Education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research 60(3), 359-377.

Björklund, C., & Barendregt, W. (2016).Teachers' pedagogical mathematical awareness in diverse child-age-groups. NOMAD – Nordic Studies in Mathematics Education 21(4), 115-134.

Financed by

The Swedish Research Council