Centre for Community Child Health


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    Developing numeracy skills

    National Literacy and Numeracy Week is a celebration of the work that Australian schools are doing to improve the literacy and numeracy skills of students. Numeracy skills are fundamental not only for individuals, but for Australia’s future workforce.

    Developing numeracy skills starts well before primary school. Numeracy skills enable children to check whether they have enough money to buy that new toy; consider if the amount of flour needed for a recipe will fit in the bowl they picked out; create a drawing or painting that uses shapes and patterns, and so much more. Children will use their numeracy skills all the time, throughout their lives, often without thinking twice.

    Throughout the early years of children’s lives, teachers, early childhood educators and parents support children to develop the sorts of knowledge, skills and behaviour they need. Among these skills is numeracy, which children will need for life. 

    Numeracy skills

    In the years before school, children develop their numeracy skills and are encouraged to extend their mathematical thinking. Educators, teachers and parents can ask questions like:

    • How much is there in the jar?
    • Does that shape block fit in this hole?
    • How many birds are there in the tree?
    • Which way will we go on our walk?
    • Is there enough cake for everyone to have a piece?
    • What happens if I put another block on the pile?

    Once children start school, the mathematical thinking skills that they’ve developed before school will form the foundation for more formal maths learning.

    Mathematical thinking

    When you think in terms of ‘mathematical thinking’ there are lots of diverse opportunities for numeracy development every day:

    • You can listen to, and talk with children about the number, shape and size of things in their environment and share rhymes and stories. Asking open questions encourages children to explore their ideas with you.
    • Encouraging mathematical thinking can start with using basic mathematical language– how much, how many, how big, how far. This can then lead to testing out children’s ideas about volume, space, size, number, measurement and distance.
    • Children learn about space, shape and size when they think about how they fit – literally – into spaces at home, school or childcare, and about how big they are in proportion to other objects or people. For example, knowing that they are smaller than mum, but bigger than their younger sibling is an example of everyday mathematical thinking.
    • Learning to recognise numbers, and starting to think about what numbers can do, is an important early numeracy skill. Playing with, sorting and counting objects – books, buttons, blocks, toys, plastic animals and more – is a fun way for children to practice their skills.

    Learn more

    The Federal Government has a range of resources available to support the celebration of National Literacy and Numeracy Week, which runs from 31 August to 6 September in 2015. 

    The ambassador for National Literacy and Numeracy Week is Simon Pampena, a ‘standup mathematician’. His website, numbercrunch.com.au, has lots of numeracy resources, particularly ones that are suitable for school-age children.

    The Raising Children Network has articles on numeracy development, from babies up.

      Also in this edition:

       Early childhood educators
       Early primary teachers

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