How parents can teach early numeracy skills

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  Published on Wednesday, 24 March 2021

How parents can teach early numeracy skills

Library Home  >  Parenting & Family Life
  Published on Wednesday, 24 March 2021
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The Murdoch Children’s Research Institute offers numerous fact sheets for parents, and a new addition will help you develop your young child’s mathematical mind.

The Numeracy Skills 0-5 Years fact sheet has been created by the Institute’s campus partner, the Centre for Community Child Health (CCCH), and it guides parents towards Raising Children’s learning ideas, too.

Here, we summarise this expert advice and count three key ways to increase your child’s early numeracy skills through everyday interactions.

What exactly is numeracy?

Raising Children says, ‘Numeracy is the ability to apply maths concepts in all areas of life,’ and numeracy skills involve:

  • Understanding numbers
  • Counting
  • Adding and subtracting numbers
  • Solving number problems
  • Measuring
  • Sorting
  • Noticing patterns etc.

Numeracy skills allow your little one to put one and two together if they’re playing with blocks or finding their socks; and the CCCH says, ‘The mathematical thinking your child develops in their earliest years will form the foundation for more formal maths learning they'll do at school, and contribute to their life skills.’

What are three key ways to build your child’s numeracy skills?

Raising Children says youngsters start learning numeracy skills from birth by watching and experiencing numeracy – especially in play and activities – and this is where parents can help. 

The CCCH explains that, ‘In the years before school, children's numeracy skills come from encouraging instinctive mathematical thinking and providing opportunities to practice,’ and here are three things you can do to support your mini-mathematician:

  1. Share numeracy-related activities

Raising Children says you can build your baby’s numeracy skills with:

  • Number-based stories (e.g. Counting Kisses by Karen Katz)
  • Counting games
  • Number songs and rhymes, and
  • By changing the tone of your voice to describe concepts (e.g. using a BIG voice to talk about a bear, and a little voice to illustrate an ant).

At toddler age, you can encourage numeracy skills with:

  • Inside and outside games (e.g. matching pairs of dominoes and playing hopscotch)
  • Collect natural objects and sort them (e.g. grouping leaves based on size or colour)
  • Arrange teddies in size order
  • Race toy cars (talking about which came first, second and third)
  • Sing nursery rhymes at different speeds, and
  • Continue reading books and singing songs that have numbers, rhythm, repetition and rhyme.  

In addition, the CCCH suggests:

  • Using shape sorting boxes and balls
  • Sorting and counting objects, like blocks, buttons, pom poms and small toys
  • Building with blocks
  • Cooking, weighing and measuring ingredients
  • Measuring how heavy or light things are, and
  • Seeing how much different sized containers hold.
  1. Add numeracy to your conversations

Talking about maths concepts helps your child understand how and why maths is useful, so Raising Children encourages you to look for opportunities to chat about numeracy in your everyday life.

With your baby, you might say:

  • “Let’s find matching socks”
  • “That’s a tall building”
  • “It’s 6am, time for breakfast”
  • “Let’s look for all the circles”, or
  • “My jumper has three buttons”

As your child grows, their understanding of size, height, weight, speed, distance and order does too, so you might say to your toddler:

  • “This bag is heavy”
  • “Let’s share the raspberries – three for you and three for me”
  • “Look at Granny’s phone number – 5432 7190”
  • “That bird is very close”, or
  • “Mummy comes home from work at 6pm”

The CCCH says you should also ask questions to engage your under five’s maths brain. For example:

  • “Which way will we go on our walk?”
  • “How many dogs are in the park?”
  • “Is there enough pizza for everyone to have a piece?”
  • “Does that shape fit in this hole?” or
  • “What happens when you put one more block on the tower?”
  1. Look for environmental numbers

When you’re out and about, you’ll notice that there are numbers on letterboxes, license plates, supermarket aisles and lots more things, and the CCCH suggests that you use these environmental numbers to encourage numeracy skills.

You might say, ‘That bus is the 381” or “This is aisle six. Where is aisle eight?” and, in time, your child will learn how to choose the cheapest juice, predict the next house number and so on.

The main thing to remember is that young children learn through play, so follow their interests where possible (e.g. are they into DUPLO, dolls or dinosaurs?) and make sure you add the fun factor your early numeracy activities.

3, 2, 1 – let’s go!

This child care article was last reviewed or updated on Monday, 22 March 2021

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