How to Develop Early Numeracy Skills

Cognitive Development

How to Develop Early Numeracy Skills

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Numeracy skills aren’t just an important part of the curriculum – they’re a vital life skill that enables us to carry out all kinds of everyday tasks. It’s never too early to introduce children to concepts of numeracy; early childhood is a crucial time for brain development, so it’s important to think about how you can support the children in your nursery to acquire numeracy skills.

When planning activities, remember to make them as fun as possible; the more the children enjoy themselves, the greater their level of engagement. This will lead to better learning outcomes and, importantly, positive associations with learning maths concepts. All of this will lay strong foundations for the next stage of their education.

Here are some ideas for activities to support the development of different kinds of numeracy skills:

Counting

Helping children to recognise and count the numbers one to ten will stand them in good stead when they start their reception year at primary school. Counting can easily be incorporated into most daily activities (eg count the biscuits/blocks/crayons), but there are many other ways to focus on this skill:

  • Sing songs – lots of songs involve counting, eg Five Little Ducks, Ten Green Bottles. Music is particularly effective in embedding learning.  
  • Read books – there are plenty of books that support number learning, eg The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Ten Black Dots.
  • Play board/card games – any game that involves rolling dice and counting spaces (eg snakes and ladders, ludo) will help children learn their numbers. Other games such as dominoes are also great for number recognition. 

Sorting

Being able to classify things is a key aspect of numeracy. Matching and sorting – for example by size, shape or colour – helps children make sense of the world and develop their logical thinking skills. Here are some ways in which you can support them:

  • Set up sorting activities – there are plenty of variations to explore (and lots of ideas if you search online), but for example you could get the children to sort crayons by colour, pasta by shape, or blocks by size.
  • Invest in sorting toys – there are many educational toys designed to help develop sorting skills.
  • Incorporate sorting into other activities – ask the children to sort things as they tidy away, or make it part of a nature walk (eg collect leaves and then sort them by shape, colour or size).

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Recognising Patterns

Learning to recognise patterns is an important part of developing reasoning skills. There are lots of ways in which you can support preschool children with pattern recognition, and these fall into two categories – finding patterns and creating patterns. Here are some ideas for both:

  • Find patterns – help the children look for patterns in everything around them – on clothes, in pictures, while you’re out walking etc. Talk to them about the colours/shapes/sequences to help them understand about patterns. You could also explore more abstract forms of patterns, for example in their daily routine.
  • Make patterns – let the children get creative with stickers, stamps or beads to make patterns; clap or beat out rhythms, building up a sequence; get the children to cross the room or garden using a series of repeated movements (eg skip, jump, stride).  

Recognising Shapes

The ability to identify shapes is the foundation for learning geometry. By the time they start primary school, most children should be able to recognise basic shapes, i.e circle, square, rectangle and triangle. There are lots of activities to support this, for example:

  • Go on a shape hunt – in the nursery, in the garden, or on a walk – ask the children to look for shapes in their everyday world, e.g the wheel on a car is a circle, the doorway is a rectangle.
  • Get creative with shapes – use shape stamps or shape cutters to make some artwork.
  • Invest in shape sorting/matching toys/games – there are lots of resources available to support shape recognition

Numeracy Skills - Cooking with a child can help improve measuring and counting skills

Measuring and Comparing

Measuring how tall, heavy or fast something is – and how short, light or slow something else is in comparison – can be a really fun and engaging aspect of maths learning. There are lots of activities you can do with preschool children, using both standard and non-standard units:

  • Do some cooking – use a simple recipe and get the children to help measure out the ingredients.
  • Explore different ways of measuring – work out the length of the garden by pacing it out, using a measuring tape, using a broom.
  • Have a building competition – get the children to build towers with blocks, and then count the blocks to measure and compare their height.
  • Play with timers – time the children running races or carrying out tasks, and compare how fast they are.
  • Guess the volume – fill various containers with water and get the children to guess which holds the most, which the least etc. Use a measuring jug to record the volumes and reveal the results.  

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