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

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Numeracy (0-60 Months)click to print Print

Helena P. Osana, Concordia University

There are many ways parents and caregivers can help young children develop important concepts and skills related to numeracy.

1. Ideas related to numeracy can be a part of daily interactions with children, such as pointing out patterns and noticing quantities in everyday situations.
2. As children play, adults can intervene by asking questions about number and by pointing out various quantities embedded in the context.
3. Parents and caregivers can set up situations that are designed explicitly to focus on counting and number.

In all situations, adults should ask a variety of questions to help children think about number in many different ways and to foster the development of important foundational skills. Adults should also model and encourage appropriate mathematical language to communicate about number and quantity comparisons.

In what follows, I describe a range of interactions and activities for parents and other caregivers that can help children achieve two key goals in their mathematical development: learning how to count and learning about number. In all of the activities described, questions are provided that can be used when interacting with children about number. Remember that children’s numeracy development differs and some of the activities that follow may be too difficult for your child.

Tips for Helping Children Learn How to Count

1. Daily Activities. As adults engage children in daily activities and routines, there are numerous opportunities for interactions about quantity and counting. Here are some ways to help children develop important counting skills in daily activities.


2. Play and Games. Children’s play provides many opportunities to think and talk about numbers and quantities. Encourage children to count objects, provide feedback if they make errors, and ask appropriate questions that help them to think about numeracy in their play. Games can also be used to assist children to think about numbers in many different ways. Here are some situations in which children can be encouraged to think about number.


3. Specially Designed Number Activities. There are times when it makes sense to set up activities that are designed specially for children to think about number. Here are some possible activities.


Tips for Helping Children Learn about Number

Interacting with young children about number can help them to develop understanding in three major areas:

1. Size and order,
2. Representation of number, and
3. Estimation.

Again, such interactions can be incorporated into daily activities, play and games, and through activities set up specifically for children to engage with number. It is also important to develop children’s reasoning and problem solving skills and to encourage them to explain their thinking. Problem solving situations can be used to introduce ideas related to addition, subtraction, and equal sharing.

1. Daily Activities


2. Play and Games


3. Specially Designed Number Activities


4. Problem Solving. Present problems based on real-life situations that are designed specifically to expose children to addition, subtraction, and equal sharing. These problems can be posed while engaging in daily routines or as part of activities that are designed specifically for children to think about number. Use small numbers at first, and gradually increase the numbers as the children develop facility with bigger quantities.

Have a variety of materials available to the children when you present the problems to them, such as paper and markers, blocks, chips, and dominoes. Encourage children to use their fingers if they want to. Present the problems orally (not in writing) and repeat the problems as often as necessary. If needed, model the actions involved in solving the problems, such as joining two sets of blocks and counting the total or removing some items from a set of objects and counting the remaining objects.

Here are some sample problems for the four main operations (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication):

Addition and Subtraction

Daily Activities


Specially Designed Number Activities: Sample Problems


Ask questions: “How did you get that? Why did you put these three blocks over here? Can you tell me what your drawing says?”

Equal Sharing (Division)

Daily Activities


Specially Designed Number Activities: Sample Problems


Ask questions: “How did you figure that out? Why did you put these blocks over here? Did everyone get the same number of cookies? Is that fair? Why or why not? Can you tell me what your drawing says?”

Helena Osana (2009). Tips For Parents And Caregivers: Numeracy Development (0 To 60 Months). In L.M. Phillips (Ed.), Handbook of language and literacy development: A Roadmap from 0-60 Months. [online], pp. 1-8. London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network. Available at: Handbook of language and literacy development