7 easy ways to build numeracy skills in young kids


Young child learning early numeracy skills learning to countIn our modern lives, numeracy is critical for understanding so much of what surrounds us. Being able to manage your finances, tally up a bill or understand a mortgage document is something many of us take for granted. But it certainly isn’t easy for everyone.

In fact, the 2013 OECD Survey of Adult Skills found one in five Australian adults have poor numeracy skills. Recent studies have also found Australian students are slipping behind other countries in maths and science, with those from disadvantaged backgrounds most at risk of not having the basic numeracy skills we all need.

Commonly when people say they don’t like maths, it’s because of negative experiences at school or a lifelong belief that they are ‘bad at maths’. However, maths ability isn’t genetic – it’s created early through hands-on experiences and curiosity, and then bolstered by formal academic learning as we progress through school.

Understanding that maths is all around us is the key to helping your child become a powerful mathematician, even when they’re in preschool. So let’s look at some simple activities that every parent can use to boost your child’s understanding and confidence with maths.

7 easy ways to build numeracy skills in young kids

1. Go for a walk

Get outside and look for opportunities to talk about maths in the environment. How many flowers can you find? Or stones? Can you line them up by size? Talk about big and small, and group them by size, shape or colour. How about leaves?

As well as counting and categorising them, you can introduce the idea of seasons. Some leaves will be different colours because of the time of the year.

2. Do maths experiments in the bath

Measuring cups from the kitchen make great bathtime toys! Explore how many small cups it takes to fill the big cup. Talk about full/empty, some/more, heavy/light, half/quarter. Discussions and experience of volume and fractions will build an understanding that maths is logical and predictable – and fun!

3. Car games

Every child loves playing games in the car. Put away those screens and look out the window! What can you see? Are the trees different sizes? How many white cars can you count? How many posts will you pass before I count to 10?

Counting, predicting and classifying by colour or size are all great concepts that you can encourage by playing Spotto, Bingo or a game you make up on the spot.

4. Cook up a storm

Children love helping in the kitchen. Cooking activities are fantastic for discussing weight, volume, number, size and time concepts.

Whether it’s making pikelets, a smoothie or a salad, there are lots of opportunities to talk about what your child is doing and seeing as the activity proceeds. They can measure ingredients with cups, scales or teaspoons, count out the containers required and estimate which size is right, use the timer to set the right cooking intervals, and then eat the results!

5. Make your own jewellery

You can use beads, pasta shapes, plastic straws, leaves, flowers – anything that is threadable (and not too small – watch for choking hazards!). String, ribbon, elastic or fishing line all work well, and be sure to tie it off securely at the ends. As you work on the necklace or bracelet, talk about the patterns you are using – maybe two red, two blue, two green; or big, small, big, small; or any pattern you like.

Did you know that making patterns and sequences are actually the foundation of algebraic reasoning? As children get better at identifying and copying patterns, they build their understanding of how sets of items can make a pattern and create a whole.

6. Play board games

Games like Snakes and Ladders, dominoes and Uno are all fantastic activities to build numeracy skills. Recognising the numerals, counting your moves and taking turns are all developed by playing games.

While children will enjoy the concept of the game, younger children may need a hand to actually count effectively. By holding their hand and placing the counter on each square as you count, you can help them develop 1:1 correspondence.

7. Shopping for maths concepts

Supermarket shopping is full of great maths learning! You can count numbers of items, compare weights, sizes and volume. Make the shopping list with your child at home and then check off each item as you go. How many apples do you need? Which tub of yoghurt is the biggest? Is 1kg of flour just as heavy as 1kg of sugar? And can you pay with coins? In this era of tap-and-go, using and understanding currency can be overlooked.

Easy everyday ways to teach early numeracy

Through everyday activities like these, you can help your child develop a lifelong curiosity and love for learning. The Let’s Count approach of NET – Notice, Explore and Talk about maths every day – is a great reminder of how easily it can be done.


The Bub Hub is proud to support The Smith Family

You can learn more great tips by attending a Let’s Count at work session in your workplace. Run by an experienced educator from The Smith Family, these one-hour workshops offer a fun and interactive learning experience, providing participants with ideas and activities to support the early numeracy development of young children in their care.

Even better, the fee for hosting a session is channelled back into The Smith Family’s education programs for disadvantaged children. For more information, visit www.thesmithfamily.com.au

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