Handbook of Language and Literacy Development - a Roadmap from 0 to 60 Months

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Where and How to Get Helpclick to print Print


To be ready for school mathematics, children need to master a number of basic numeracy skills, concepts, and procedures:



  1. Numeracy skills - such as counting,
  2. Numeracy concepts - such as number sense, and
  3. Procedures such as basic problem solving strategies.

Children's numeracy development is uncertain and some young children experience difficulties learning and understanding some, all or a combination of these basic skills. Further, learning difficulties in numeracy may, or may not, be combined with language processing problems, visual spatial confusion, and difficulties with memory retention.

Although all children develop at different rates, the numeracy skills of infants and toddlers develop in a relatively predictable sequence of steps, or milestones (please refer to section Parent/Caregiver Narrative: Numeracy Concepts and Skills Development 0 – 60 months).

Because a child's numeracy development is largely influenced by the opportunities presented in his or her environment, it is important to note that some children may not proceed through these developmental milestones at the same time. That being said, however, failure to demonstrate certain numerical abilities by a given age may be an indication that future mathematical difficulties may appear, particularly once the child enters school. Such difficulties may lead to mathematics anxiety if not identified early. Therefore, it is important for a parent or caregiver to take note of possible signs of such difficulties, described below.

A child may be showing signs of difficulty if by three years of age, he or she:

  1. Does not know the words for any numbers;
  2. Does not point to any toys or objects while saying numbers;
  3. Does not use or say the numbers in the same order every time (even though the order may be wrong);
  4. Does not get better at pointing to only one object when saying one number;
  5. Does not get better at counting (such as saying the numbers in their correct order, counting higher, etc.).

A child may be showing signs of difficulty if by four years of age, he or she:

  1. Does not realize that larger numbers come later in the order of counting (for example, 9 is larger than 6 and it comes after 6 when counting up);
  2. Cannot put up the right number of fingers on one hand for numbers less than or equal to five;
  3. Cannot equally divide up a small number of items (numbers up to 10) between 2 people;
  4. Does not use words to compare objects, such as "taller," "shorter," "fatter," "skinnier," "wider," and "longer";
  5. Cannot recognize numbers below 10.

A child may be showing signs of difficulty if by five years of age, he or she:

  1. Does not know how to count to 10;
  2. Cannot say the number just before or just after any number up to 10;
  3. Does not correctly point to each object when counting a small sets of items (up to five) or keep track of which ones have already been counted;
  4. Does not know that the last number said when counting things indicates how many things there are;
  5. Hands over the wrong number of objects when asked to give a certain number of them (up to 5);
  6. Cannot say which number is bigger when given any two numbers between 1 and 10;

Children who experience difficulties in numeracy need to engage in more activities that promote knowledge of number and counting (please see the section TIPS for Parents and Caregivers for Numeracy Development for examples). Librarians, Public Health Nurses, Pediatricians, certified early childhood educators, kindergarten teachers, and mathematics specialists working at a local school board or university can also offer parents useful advice and information.

Websites such as the Canadian Childcare Federation (http://www.cccf-fcsge.ca/), the Canadian chapters of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (http://www.nctm.org/resources/content.aspx?id=11382), and Caring for Kids (http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca/) also contain useful information about engaging children in numeracy activities.

Osana, H.P. & Rayner, V. (2009). How and When to Get Help: Numeracy Development 0-60 Months. In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0 – 60 Months. [online], pp. 1-2. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development