Numeracy Skills

Developing Early Numeracy Skills in your Children

22 July 2022
Posted by: Chelsea

Even from the time they are a baby or very young toddler, most children will already have started to develop numeracy skills.

There are things you can do though to help in developing early numeracy skills in your children.

The good news – Numeracy Skills process is usually automatic in part

Although the exact reasons are sometimes disputed, most child development specialists contend that numeracy is to some extent inherent. In other words, your child will automatically have a tendency to distinguish between concepts such as “more” and “less”, progressing in time to an understanding that “3 things” is more than “1 thing” with the difference being “2 things”.

This possibly natural tendency is good because it means that parents aren’t starting from a zero base.

Baby counting

Babies can grasp some of the above concepts very quickly.

You can start by doing things like counting their toes and fingers or singing little number-counting songs or those that include some numeracy like “three blind mice”.

Another good idea is to hold up your hand and encourage your baby to touch each of say three fingers you’re displaying, then you can count them out loud as they touch.

Toddlers and pre-schoolers

By this age, you can start expanding your fun counting – though don’t expect wonders!

Children should be able to start playing games like sharing out toys or sweeties. You can say things like “I’ll have two – you can have three”.

Slowly but surely, you can build up their knowledge of numbers and even some very rudimentary addition and subtraction. Remember to try and keep it to practical contexts and ‘things’ rather than going for abstract numbers and sums.

There are absolutely mountains of learning numbers and counting games available in the shops and online. Try to buy for your child’s actual perceived ability at the time rather than trying to stretch them too far by opting for too advanced toys and games.

Do also remember that there is no better aid to developing skills than spending time with a parent playing number games with them.

You should see some rapid progress in their counting and perhaps adding and subtracting but don’t set targets for them. Above all with toddlers and pre-school children, keep it fun!

Also never pressurise your child to learn or let them see you’re disappointed with their progress in terms of Numeracy Skills. If they start thinking that numbers are somehow a chore, you could cause damage to their long-term perceptions of mathematics.


Modern child development specialists typically stress that putting achievement levels against an age can be deeply misleading and cause unnecessary concerns for parents and children alike.

Children learn these things at very different speeds and some may have developed basic addition skills by 3-4 whereas with other children it might be 5-6. These variations are typically not cause for concern.

As a very rough guide though:

  • in their immediate pre-school years, perhaps at around 4, children should be able to show some very basic Numeracy Skills i.e. addition and subtraction. They should be able to see that adding a bean to three beans and then counting again, means there will be four beans (etc.). Many should be able to extend this slightly more abstractly to “3 plus 1 adds up to 4”;
  • by around 3, a child should have shown they can distinguish between the concepts of ‘more’ and ‘less’. They should also be able to count up some numbers in succession;
  • by the age of 4-5, most children should be able to count to around 20 or more and be capable of doing some very simple addition and subtraction practical arithmetic based around ‘things’ rather than numbers.

You may wish to consider asking for some specialist assessment of Numeracy Skills if by around 4-5 years of age your child:

  • is unable to count past perhaps 5 or is unable to count at all – including showing no interest in it;
  • is seemingly unable to distinguish in play between ‘more’ and ‘less’ or ‘bigger’ and ‘smaller’;
  • becomes distressed or turns away when you’re trying to help them to learn to count or play with numbers.

Problems are rare but discussion with your doctor may help to put your mind at rest.

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