The Rhodes University South African Numeracy Chair Project (SANCP) runs several teacher, learner, family and community intervention projects. We briefly outline two of our flagship projects:

Early Number Fun teacher development programme

The Early Number Fun programme brings together 45 Grade R teachers from 15 local schools as a supportive teacher community. This is based on the assumption that teacher learning is greatly enhanced through active participation in ‘communities of practice’ and is informed by Wenger’s sociocultural theory of learning in communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). This aligns well with current SA teacher education policy that foregrounds the importance of localised teacher communities for enabling professional development (DBE, 2015).

The programme consists of 10 workshop sessions and is co-ordinated by the SANC project team, namely Prof Mellony Graven, Dr Debbie Stott and supported by full time masters and doctoral students in SANCP. The SANCP team contributes research informed resources, ideas and access to professional networks, while teachers contribute critical contextual knowledge and experience of working with learners in local and diverse school contexts. The programme also draws on expertise from a range of Grade R practitioners with experience in teaching, lecturing and/or researching early pre-school learning to lead and participate in sessions.

At the heart of the programme is a research informed ‘early number fun resource kit’. This kit  is provided on an on-going basis to all fully participating teachers for use in their Grade R classrooms. This kit contains a wide range of resources such as dominoes, dice, flash cards, bead strings, number-story books, posters and suggested formative assessment activities. Multiple sets of the resources are provided for individual and/or paired learner use in classrooms.

Working with both Vygotskian theory and socio constructivism the programme is based on the following theoretical assumptions:

  • Language is key to development and learning.
  • Learners will learn number sense through actively constructing number knowledge through engaging with activities in social settings.
  • Learning takes place in the Zone of proximal development (ZPD) defined as:

The distance between the actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers. (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 86)

Essentially this means that activities should be targeted to an appropriate level of learner development such that activities are neither too difficult nor too easy for the learners, and activities should involve active engagement and encourage dialogue with learners. According to Wright, Martland, Stafford and Stanger (2006) activities should be at the ‘cutting edge’ of learner development. In this way learning leads development.

Pic for Rhodes SARCHI piece

Conceptual and curriculum informed ideas

The programme is additionally based on the following:

  • An integrated curriculum
  • Emerging number sense and progression
  • Narrative approaches to working with numbers
  • Learner cognitive control (executive functioning)
  • Growth mind sets and positive learning dispositions

More information about the research that informs each of these can be found in our Pre-primary Early Number Fun Programme and Resource Kit: Discussion document on our website.

Key representations

The programme focuses on the following key representations which emerge from the broader research literature and are particularly prevalent in the work of Buys and Treffers and in Wright et al.’s work: fingers, dot patterns, linear model (bead string), 5 and 10-frames, concrete items (counters, blocks etc.).

Family Maths Events

As early as 1974, Bronfenbrenner wrote about the importance of family involvement in child development, particularly with regard to the success of intervention programmes. Since 2013, the South African Numeracy (SANC) project at Rhodes University has supported a number of schools in setting up and running Family Maths Events which form part of the ‘community buzz’ encouraged by the project. These events aim to get families talking and enjoying maths together as well as encouraging a ‘maths is fun’ ethos.

Following our positive experiences, in 2015 as part of a larger 3-year partnership project with 5 local after-care centres, this work was extended to these centres by coaching and supporting maths club facilitators to run such events at their centres, as a supplementary aspect to the maths club programme.

The evidence indicates that the family is the most effective and economical system for fostering and sustaining the development of the child. The evidence indicates further that the involvement of the child’s family as an active participant is critical to the success of any intervention program. The Harvard Family Research Project (2007) points out that family involvement can be strengthened with positive results for children and their school success. Epstein’s (2001) book indicates that “well-designed program and practices of school, family, and community partnerships benefit students, families and schools” (p.18). This is supported by projects done in other countries such as Australia and South Africa where they work specifically with mathematics.

In 2015 and 2016, the 5 local after-care centres each ran a Family Maths event and will continue to do so in 2017 and beyond. Following the success of the maths events, the aftercare centres have also duplicated this model in developing family literacy events.

More information about the running of these events can be found in our Family Maths Events – information booklet on our website, along with activities and other resources we use for these events.

Authors: Prof Mellony Graven and Dr Debbie Stott



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Bronfenbrenner, U. (1974). Is early intervention effective? Day Care and Early Education, 2(2), 14–18.

Buys, K. (2008). Pre-school years – emergent numeracy. In M. van den Heuvel-Panhuizen (Ed.), Children learn mathematics: A learning-teaching trajectory with intermediate attainment targets for calculation with whole numbers in primary school. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Department of Basic Education (DBE) (2015). Professional Learning Communities – A guideline for South African schools. Pretoria: DBE.

Epstein, J. L. (2001). School, Family and Community Partnerships: Preparing Educators and Improving Schools. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Harvard Family Research Project. (2007). Family involvement in elementary school children’s education. Cambridge, MA.

Treffers, A. (2008). Kindergarten 1 and 2 – growing number sense. In M. van den Heuvel-Panhuizen (Ed.), Children learn mathematics: A learning-teaching trajectory with intermediate attainment targets for calculation with whole numbers in primary school. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. (A.R. Luria, M. Lopez-Morillas, M. Cole, & J.V. Wertsch, Trans.; M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Souberman, Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wright, R. J., Martland, J., & Stafford, A. K. (2006). Early numeracy: assessment for teaching and intervention. London: Sage Publications Ltd