Understanding numbers

The building blocks to maths begins with kids learning to count – eggs, pegs... anything you can think of.

At a glance

  • Kids learn counting as a pattern of words, just like a nursery rhyme.
  • Kids learn the pattern of counting by repeating the numbers.
  • To count, kids need to match saying the number words with the correct number of things.
  • Kids should be given lots of opportunities to practise and explore counting groups of things.
  • Children also need to recognise and name numbers.

One of the first experiences kids have with numbers is counting. Counting starts as learning a pattern of words, just like a nursery rhyme. As kids' counting develops, they begin to relate the words to a number of ‘things'.

How do kids learn to count and use numbers?

Kids learn the pattern of counting by repeating the numbers. At the beginning, this pattern may have gaps where your child may leave out a number in the sequence, or they may invent numbers. It's common to hear kids say '20-10' after counting to 29.

Remembering the words for each number in the correct order such as '1, 2, 3' is only part of counting. To count, kids need to match saying the number words with the correct number of things ie, saying the number "three" for three cars. Kids should be given lots of opportunities to practise and explore counting groups of things as well as making groups. Children also need to recognise and name numbers.

Counting with your child at home

  • Count with your child the number of buttons as you do up a cardigan or shirt.
  • Encourage your child to count the number of pegs used to hang out the washing.
  • Count the number of steps from the front door to the letterbox.
  • Count the number of eggs in a carton, and again after some have been removed.
  • Count the number of times you and your child can throw a ball to each other without dropping it.
  • Read and talk about stories and rhymes that use numbers.
  • Sing songs and nursery rhymes that include numbers such as Five Little Ducks and Baa Baa Black Sheep.
  • Have your child count as far as they are able to go and then encourage them to join you while you continue counting.
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