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Belinda's kids - Numbers - 1 May

Learning about numbers at the ECE centre

Belinda Woodman from the Ministry of Education, talks about how  parents can support their children's early learning and development.

Numbers are all around us, every day and in every environment where we learn, work and play. Your child learns about numbers from a very early age, often before you even realise it. Your child needs to learn about numbers and maths to help them in everyday life with things like solving problems.

What does my child understand?

Your young child will respond to rhymes and songs, and then to say the numbers, and learn to count before they understand what numbers mean.
Link numbers with objects to help your child learn what one, two, three or five objects means.
Equipment and resources in ECE services including puzzles, blocks and beads give your child lots of chances to learn about matching which is important for understanding what the numbers mean.
All the counting in everyday activities, such as setting the table or getting dressed, helps your child understand numbers.
They learn about numbers because they are involved in activities with a purpose and also because they can  repeat the numbers over and again - at ECE centres they are working alongside other children and teachers.  This repetition of numbers helps to build connections in the brain.

How can I use numbers in everyday activities?

Almost anything you and your child do is a chance to count.  There are lots of ways to count and use numbers with your child in everyday activities

Together you could count:

  • segments of orange or pieces of apple
  • whether there are enough potatoes or carrots for dinner
  • how many spoons, forks or places at the table?
  • shoes in a wardrobe, socks in a drawer and coats on a hook
  • taking turns and sharing - 'one for you, one for me'
  • stairs, levels in the lift and swings at the playground when you are out and about
  • trolleys, bottles of milk and the number of bananas in a bunch at the supermarket

Your child starts to understand numbers when they make a link between hearing numbers and seeing actions.

The numbers one and two are the beginnings of counting.  There are lots of ones and twos on your child's body - one head, one nose, one mouth, two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs.  Fingers and toes are in handy sets of five.

Rhymes, songs and games

Many rhymes, songs and little games include numbers or ideas about numbers, such as the 'Round and round the garden' rhyme.  If you say the rhyme while you are making a circle on your baby's hand, your baby will learn to expect the next stage of "1 step, 2 step, tickly under there". The expectation of what is coming next is a clear signal of your child's amazing brain in action and learning about sequence of events from the things you do together.

Fingers and toes are the perfect basis for counting games. 'This little piggy went to market' is a good example.  Touching their fingers or toes in order helps to make to make links between numbers and starting to count.
All the counting you do together at home is very meaningful for your child. 

Songs and rhymes also introduce other maths ideas, such as order and shape.  For example, in 'round and round the garden', your child learns the shape of a circle on their hand.  Your child also learns about sequence - one part of the rhyme or song follows another, and one number follows another.

How does an ECE service help with number learning?

Counting at home forms a basis for your child to learn from the counting activities that happen in early childhood education (ECE) centres.  Learning about numbers and counting at ECE reinforces and enhances what you do at home. 

At an ECE centre there are many opportunities for counting items such as:

  • blocks and other equipment
  • children at the table
  • cups and plates
  • chairs and tables
  • shoes and socks
  • hats and coats

Taking turns or sharing with other children is another way your child learns to count - "one for you, one for me", or "your turn, then my turn".  Both indoor and outdoor areas at an ECE centre give children lots of chances to practise taking turns.

ECE teachers use lots of simple rhymes, songs and stories to support learning about maths and numbers.  In early childhood education, physical activities as well as music and songs give children lots of counting experience. 

Pictures and equipment in ECE centres help to reinforce the concepts of number, order and shape. Your child's art work will show what that they are learning about numbers through their drawing.  When teachers talk to your child about their drawings, they talk about the number of objects and size, shape and colour.

For more ideas and tips, find a full list of topics on Parenting for Early Learning at Team-Up