Helping children with numbers and maths

by Emma Loughran. Ideas for supporting and encouraging your child's learning at home.

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Go into any big bookshop and you'll see that educational worksheets and booklets - which help support both the Early Years Foundation Stage and the Key Stages in primary education - are big business.

But you don’t need to spend a fortune on those kind of published materials to encourage your toddler, pre-schooler or primary-aged child to develop their numeracy and literacy skills. You can do a lot at home - for free!

How CBeebies can help

CBeebies shows and website activities are designed to support the National Curriculum and Early Years Foundation Stage Profile. Programmes - and their related online activities - range from those that encourage spatial awareness and shape recognition to those (such as Numberjacks) that increase awareness of number recognition and formation.

Numberjacks familiarises your son or daughter with the digits from 0 to 10, presenting them as friendly, colourful characters, playing a superhero role and solving problems. The ‘baddies’ are various characters that create ‘problems’ that the numbers can ‘fix’. Problem solving is a key focus throughout Key Stage 1 and 2 in mathematics, and Numberjacks forms an early introduction to this for younger children.

A programme like Show Me Show Me is a good reference point for using comparative language through singing and rhyme. Different-sized toys (such as Teddington and Miss Mouse) support the concept of different things being bigger and smaller than each other - which is one of the building blocks when beginning to compare size and amounts. The cookery show I Can Cook encourages counting out and weighing and measuring skills that you can try at home during baking and cooking activities.

How to make a magic moment

Tikkabilla is a good source of fun, simple songs that you can sing with your child to reinforce these concepts. Songs such as ‘Five Little Ducks’, ‘Five Currant Buns In The Baker’s Shop’, ‘Five In The Bed’ or ‘Five Little Monkeys Bouncing On The Bed’ all involve the concept of one less - showing the five fingers and gradually counting down to zero. They are a great way to familiarise your little one with the number names and values, and have a giggle at the same time.

Extra information

The Early Years Foundation Stage Profile expects that children between the age of 22-36 months should be counting and responding to mathematical language during familiar routines. By the time a child enters Nursery class (the year before Reception), it is expected that they will be able to find one more or one less from a group of up to five objects. Working this into a game when looking at books or organising toys is a straightforward task.

The next step in children’s calculation skills comes when they are able to relate addition by combining two groups. Using raisins or small fruits and counting them out into containers that are then poured into a large one will improve their understanding of addition.

If your child is grasping all these steps confidently, you could begin to introduce pennies and practical activities such as ‘taking one away’ or ‘one less’. Once your child has got this far, you can begin to involve them in the process of dealing with money amounts, such as handing over money or receiving change when shopping (even just in play). The more opportunities that you give your child around money, basic counting and comparative language, the sooner they will develop mathematical ideas and methods to solve practical problems themselves.

Familiarising your child with mathematical language from a young age should increase their confidence when they are expected to use a range of strategies for addition and subtraction. An early visual experience of numbers and subsequent practise at recording them may help children with mental recall of early maths ‘facts’ such as the number bonds (or pairs) to 10.

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Expert opinion

Don’t feel the need to formalise your child’s number skills too early.

Getting them to read and write numerals is not the only way you can encourage your child’s number skills. Younger children may not be ready to start reading and writing numerals but this doesn’t mean they won’t grasp it in time.

Many of the playtime activities and songs that you and your child are already doing will be reinforcing their concepts of number and calculation.

Emma Loughran, Primary school teacher

Top tips

  • Introduce the vocabulary of addition and subtraction early by instilling concepts of less and more, and encouraging your child to make comparative statements with questions such as ‘Can you tell me which toy is bigger?’Sing songs such as 'Five Little Ducks' - reinforcing the numbers by holding up the corresponding number of fingers, embedding notional images of amounts.Encourage the use of words and phrases linked to addition such as ‘altogether’ by gathering single toys together when tidying up.Rearrange a group of objects that your child has counted with you and count again, encouraging them to recognise that the total is still the same.