Mathematical signs and their cultural transmission in pretend play

Maulfry Worthington*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book / Report / Conference proceedingChapterAcademicpeer-review


Mathematics is a critical aspect of early childhood curricula and integral to competency in all STEM subjects. Developed historically, the abstract symbolic language of mathematics is a powerful cultural phenomenon. Using a genetic approach to research the beginning mathematical inscriptions of 3-4-year-olds has highlighted their meaning-based symbol use as children move towards the formal, “higher psychological functions” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 46). Underpinned by Vygotsky’s socio-cultural and social-semiotic theories, this chapter considers from whom and how young children learn the mathematical signs of the established cultural system ofmathematics. It investigates intertextuality and modes of cultural transmission, the social learning mechanisms of imitation and emulation whereby teachers, other adults and children transmit cultural knowledge. The findings show the potential of rich pretend play for learning including peer-to-peer natural pedagogy, highlighting the importance of an effective early learning culture and underscoring the extent to which social learning is paramount for mathematics.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSTEM Education Across the Learning Continuum
Subtitle of host publicationEarly Childhood to Senior Secondary
EditorsAmy Macdonald, Lena Danaia, Steve Murphy
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9789811528217
ISBN (Print)9789811528200
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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