About maths and numeracy skills
Numeracy is the ability to see and use maths concepts in all areas of life.
Numeracy skills involve understanding numbers, counting, solving number problems, measuring, estimating, sorting, noticing patterns, adding and subtracting numbers, and so on.
Children and adults need numeracy and maths skills to do everyday things like:
- solving problems – for example, how long will it take to walk to school?
- making sense of information – for example, how many wins does my team need to get to the top of the competition?
- understanding patterns – for example, what number would the next house in this street be?
- making choices – for example, which bike is the best value?
Your child’s everyday experiences are full of learning opportunities that lay the foundations for numeracy.
How children start learning numeracy skills
Children start learning numeracy skills from the time they’re born, and you play an important role, especially at home.
For example, you can introduce maths through everyday play and activities by encouraging your child to:
- compare and order things of different sizes – ‘big’, ‘small’ and ‘medium’
- group things together and talk about ‘same’ and ‘different’
- use words to describe where things are – ‘over’, ‘under’ and ‘next to’
- help with setting the table with the right number of plates, forks, spoons and cups
- notice and make patterns with everyday items, like shells, leaves or beads.
And when you talk with your child about maths concepts in your everyday activities, it helps your child understand how and why maths is useful. For example, this happens when you point out:
- big and small (size)
- high and low (height)
- long and short (length)
- heavy and light (weight)
- fast and slow (speed)
- close and far (distance)
- first, second and last (order).
Young children need a lot of practice and hands-on play with everyday objects to develop numeracy and maths skills like matching, sorting, comparing and ordering.
Babies: tips for building numeracy skills
Your baby loves hearing your voice and enjoys stories and songs with repetition, rhyme and numbers. Here are things you can do with your baby to build numeracy skills:
- Read stories with numbers – for example, ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’.
- Play counting, sorting and matching games.
- Sing number songs and rhymes.
- Change your tone of voice to describe concepts – for example, use a deep, loud voice to describe something big, or a soft, squeaky voice to describe something little.
And here are things you can talk about:
- Everyday activities – for example, ‘Let’s put half of the bird seed here and half over there’ or ‘Let’s find matching socks’.
- The environment – for example, ‘Look at the little bird over there’ or ‘That’s a tall tree’.
- Food – for example, ‘Let’s have 2 pieces of banana’ or ‘How many cups do we need?’
- Time – for example, ‘7 pm, time for bed’.
- Shapes and patterns – for example, ‘Let’s look for all the triangles’.
It’s best if you can make these everyday numeracy activities and experiences playful and relaxed so that they’re fun for your child.
Get words and music for counting songs like ‘Five little ducks’ and ‘One two three four five’ with our Baby Karaoke.
Toddlers and preschoolers: tips for building numeracy skills
Talking, everyday activities, play and reading help your child develop communication, imagination and other skills for understanding maths concepts. Here are ideas.
Ideas for talking
- Use maths concepts to describe what you and your child are seeing and doing together. For example, ‘Look at the fast cars’ or ‘This bag is heavy’.
- When you’re preparing food, talk about what you’re doing. For example, ‘I’m cutting this orange in half’ or ‘Let’s share these sultanas – one for me and one for you’.
- Point out and name the numbers you see, like the numbers on mailboxes, buses, road signs, catalogues and receipts.
- When you’re out and about, talk about what’s near or further away. For example, ‘Let’s sit on that bench nearby to have our snack’ or ‘It’s quite far to the lake. Would you like to ride in the stroller?’
- Talk about activities that happen at certain times of the day. For example, ‘We eat breakfast at 7 am’, or ‘Let’s go to the park before we have dinner at 6 pm’.
Ideas for everyday activities
- Make counting part of your everyday life. For example, count shells at the beach, fruit at the shop and trees on the street. Or count toys together as your child packs them away.
- When you’re out and about, encourage your child to describe or compare shapes of leaves, colours of flowers or sizes of birds.
- Use a growth chart or marks on a wall to measure your child’s growing height, and describe to your child what you’re doing.
- Involve your child in cooking. Your child can help stir, pour, fill and mix. This helps your child get familiar with concepts like counting, measuring, adding and estimating.
Ideas for play
- Go for a nature walk and let your child gather a mix of leaves, sticks, pebbles and other natural items. Your child can sort them into groups based on size, colour, shape or function.
- Sing songs and read books with repeating, rhyming or rhythmic numbers.
- Play simple board games, card games and puzzles with shapes and numbers, like ‘Snap’, or matching pairs or dominoes.
- Play outside games like ‘I spy’, hopscotch, skittles and ‘What’s the time Mr Wolf’.
- Play or sing music at different speeds. Your child can dance, jump or shake musical instruments to slow or fast songs. Sing nursery rhymes slowly and then speed up.
- Race toy cars and talk about which came first, second or third.
- Help your child to arrange their toys in order from shortest to tallest.
- Build and stack with blocks and other everyday objects. You can ask your child whether the tower they’re building is tall or short and narrow or wide.
Ideas for books and reading
Here are books that feature numbers, counting, shapes and sizes:
- 123 of Australian Animals by Bronwyn Bancroft
- Counting kisses by Karen Katz
- Noni the pony counts to a million by Alison Lester
- Round is a mooncake: A book of shapes by Roseanne Thong
- Soup day by Melissa Iwai
- Ten little dinosaurs by Mike Brownlow
- The very hungry caterpillar by Eric Carle
- We all sleep by Ezekiel Kwaymullina.
Children learn best when they’re interested in something. If your child is doing something they’re particularly interested in – whether it involves dinosaurs, dolls, cars, building, insects and so on – you can use and explore maths concepts with your child while they play.