# parent tips

# Numeracy (0-60 Months) 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.

- · When children are going up and down the stairs, encourage them to count the steps. After counting the number of steps, ask questions such as, “How many steps did we just climb? How do you know you have counted them all? Are there more steps inside the building or outside the building?”
- · As children are invited to distribute snacks among family members or in a daycare setting, count the number of people needing snacks; after distributing a few snacks, count how many people have snacks and how many do not have any. Ask questions that include quantity and quantity comparisons, such as, “Could you please give three to each person? Do you think we have enough for everybody? Are there more cartons of milk or more granola bars? Are there too many people here?”
- · As children are distributing arts and crafts materials, provide instructions with numbers and words that indicate comparison, such as, “Every person needs 2 paint brushes, 4 jars of paint, 8 popsicle sticks, and 10 stickers. Make sure everyone gets the same number of stickers. I think your neighbour has fewer popsicle sticks than you do.”
- · As children are cleaning up, count the toys as they are put away. Ask quantity comparison questions, such as, “Are there more toys in the trunk or out of the trunk? How many toys do we still need to put away? How many dolls were taken out today?”
- · As children are getting dressed to go outside, ask them to count the number of buttons on their coats from top to bottom. Then ask them to count the buttons from bottom to top. Ask questions such as, “Did you get the same number of buttons each time you counted? Why or why not?”
- · Have the children take turns counting the number of children in line to go outside. Have them count the number in line by starting the count from the other end or from somewhere in the middle. Ask, “How many kids are in line? Did we get the same number when we counted the first time and the second and third times? Did we get fewer? Did we get more? Why or why not?”

**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.

- · As children are playing with toys, such as blocks or Lego pieces, ask them questions such as, “Who has more blocks? Who has fewer Lego pieces? Can you make this pile of blocks the same size as that pile?”
- · When lacing beads, count the number of beads as they are placed on the string. Ask questions such as, “Do you think we have enough beads to make a bracelet? Do we have enough to make a necklace? Are there more red beads or more blue beads on the string? Is there nearly the same number of green beads as yellow beads in the jar? Are there more beads in the jar or on the string?”
- · When children are playing with play dough, ask comparison questions and make comments about quantities, such as, “Who has more play dough? How can you tell? I don’t think Joan has enough play dough! Can someone give her some more? I think you’ve made too many cookies with your play dough!”
- · When children skip rope or play hopscotch, encourage them to count the number of skips and hops. When they throw balls, count the number of throws back and forth. Ask questions such as, “How many skips did you count? How many would there be if you skipped one more time? How many times did you throw the ball to Jason?”
- · Play games that involve different representations of number, such as card games, dice, dominoes, board games, and bingo. Count the number of dots on the face of a die and on a domino. Count the total number of dots on two dice. Ask, “Why do we have to say the number words in the same order every time? What if we counted these dots but started with 3 and not 1? What would happen?” When playing board games, ask, “Where did you start? How many did you count? Where did you land?”
- · When dealing cards or distributing game pieces, encourage children to count them out loud. Ask questions involving counting and quantity, such as, “Does everyone have the same number of cards/dominoes/pieces? Are you giving the same number to every player? Make sure everyone has the same.”

**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.

- · Sing songs and nursery rhymes with numbers in them (e.g., “One, two, buckle my shoe. Three, four, open the door. Five six, pick up sticks…”; “Three little monkeys jumping on the bed, one fell off and bumped his head. Mama called the doctor and the doctor said, no more monkeys jumping on the bed! Two little monkeys jumping on the bed…”).
- · When reading to children, ask them questions about the pictures in the books. For example, “How many ducks are there on the page? Are there more trees than flowers here? Is there the same number of leaves on the trees or is the number of leaves different from tree to tree?”
- · Use a puppet to play counting games with children. Make it fun. Have the puppet count a group of blocks incorrectly and ask the children what they think about the way the puppet counted. For example, have the puppet use the same number to tag two different objects, have the puppet skip objects while counting, or have the puppet use two different numbers to count the same object. Children love to correct others when they count, but they also learn important counting concepts such as one-to-one correspondence and number order by engaging in such games.
- · Read books to children that involve counting words and language about quantity.

## 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**

- · Use numbers that specify order, such as “first,” “second,” “last.” Use words that are used to compare quantities, such as “bigger/biggest, “less/least,” “taller/tallest,” and “longer/longest.” Ask questions using these words, such as, “In the race, who came in second? Who is last in line? How many people are taller than Mary? Who is the tallest in the room? Who has the shortest pencil?” (size and order)
- · Ask questions that encourage children to think about bigger/smaller, such as, “What would you rather have: 2 toys or 4 toys? Who is tall enough to reach onto that shelf? (size and order)
- · When counting the number of snacks, for example crackers on a plate, ask questions such as, “If I added one more, how many would there be?” (Try to encourage children to think about numbers after without having to start the count from 1.) Another question would be, “If I ate one, how many would be left?” (Start with small numbers because children’s earliest experience with subtraction will depend on their ability to count backwards.) (size and order)
- · Introduce the idea of parts and wholes (such as fractions). Ask questions such as, “We have one tub of play dough for 4 children. What can we do so that each child gets the same amount of play dough to play with? We have one cupcake left but there are 2 children who want to share it. What should we do?” (size and order)
- · Encourage children to show small quantities (numbers under 10) with their fingers. Ask questions such as, “Show me on your fingers how old you are. Show me on your fingers how many grapes we have left on the plate.” (representation of number)
- · Introduce numbers bigger than 10. Count repeatedly from 1 to 20 and ask children to count with you. (representation of number)
- · Encourage children to name larger numbers, including those that figure in their daily lives: “What is your house number? What is the largest number you can think of? Can you think of a number even bigger than that? Where can you find big numbers?” (representation of number)
- · Encourage children to make reasonable estimates about quantity. Daily routines provide excellent contexts for estimation. Ask questions such as, “About how many people are on the bus right now? About how many pages are in this book? About how many jelly beans are in this jar? About how many pieces of watermelon are on the plate?” (estimation)

**2. Play and Games**

- · Play variations of traditional dominoes. Instead of matching the dominoes end-to-end with the same number of dots, the rule is to match the dominoes with “one more” or “one less.” (size and order)
- · Make number cards from 0 to 10 (4 cards for each number) and play “War.” (size and order)
- · Play games that involve keeping score. Encourage children to record the scores in meaningful ways (with tallies, drawings, or numbers). (representation of number)
- · While children are playing, encourage them to make estimates. When they build a Lego tower, for example, ask, “About how many Legos did you use to make that tower?” When lacing beads, ask, “About how many beads did you need to make that necklace?” (estimation)

**3. Specially Designed Number Activities**

- · Use objects that are similar in shape but of different sizes and ask children to order them from smallest to largest (or from largest to smallest). For example, use cubes of different sizes or sticks of different lengths. Ask questions such as, “Why is this one bigger than that one? Why did you put this one over here? Now where would you place this one?” (Size and order)
- · Name three numbers (e.g., 5, 8, and 3) and ask children to put them in order from smallest to largest (or from largest to smallest).
- · Ask questions about the order of numbers in the counting sequence, such as, “What number comes right after 5? What number is right before 8? What number is two after 6?” (size and order)
- · It is important for children to know how much is one more and how much is one less. For example, place 4 blocks in front of the child and ask the child to count them. Then add or take away one block. Ask, “How many are there now?” (size and order)
- · Children should be able to “see” the number of objects in small sets without counting. For example, children should be able to see immediately that there are 2 or 3 pennies in front of them without having to count the pennies. By the age of 3, if a child still has to count 2 or 3 items, play games such as
*Hide the Kitty*.*Hide the Kitty*involves showing a picture of 2 (or 3 or 4) kitties on a card. Ask the child to tell you how many kitties there are, and then cover up the kitties before the child can count them. Repeat with 2, 3, and even 4 kitties arranged in different configurations. (Size and order) - · Ask children to draw pictures to show numbers. Ask questions such as, “Can you draw a picture to show how many children are in the room? Can you show me on this paper how many fish are in the aquarium? (representation of number)
- · Show connections between numbers (“one,” “two,” “three,” etc.) and the written numbers (1, 2, 3, etc.). Ask children to pick out number cards that match the number of toys in a pile or the number of beads on a string. (representation of number)

**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

- · When riding the bus, ask questions such as, “How many people are on the bus? If 2 people got off, how many would be left? If one more person got on, how many people would be on the bus?” (Encourage finger counting)
- · We will have 4 people for dinner tonight. I’d like to give each person 2 pieces of bread. How many pieces of bread will I need to buy at the store?

Specially Designed Number Activities: Sample Problems

- · If you had 2 candies and someone gave you 3 more, how many candies would you have now?
- · You had one cookie. Your mom gave you some more and now you have 3. How many cookies did your mom give you?
- · You had 4 dolls and your sister took one away. How many dolls do you have left?
- · You have 3 boxes and there are 2 pencils in each box. How many pencils do you have altogether?

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

- · For your birthday party, we bought 12 toys in all. If we put 3 toys in each party-bag, how many kids will get a party-bag? What if I put 2 toys in each bag? How many kids will get a bag? How many kids did you invite to your party? Will I need to buy more toys? If so, how many more?
- · There are 42 cards in this game. How many kids are playing? So, how many cards will each kid get? [If applicable: How many cards are left over?]

Specially Designed Number Activities: Sample Problems

- · There are 8 juice cartons in the picnic basket. If there were 4 kids at the picnic who wanted to share the juice equally, how many juice boxes would each kid get? Are there any left over?
- · Mrs. Gordon bought 9 cupcakes for snack time. Three kids want to share the cupcakes fairly. How many will Mrs. Gordon give to each kid? Are there any left over?
- · I have 13 hockey cards. I would like to share them with my 3 friends so that we all get the same number of hockey cards. How many will each of us get? Are there any left over?

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