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How to foster early numeracy skill development

Early numeracy skills develop significantly before children are exposed to formal teaching. These skills can be fostered through interactions with caregivers to provide a solid foundation on which school mathematics teaching can build.

There is substantial growth in children’s numeracy skills before they start school, according to a new ACER report, Counting on it: Early numeracy development and the preschool child, by ACER Research Fellow Dr Kate Reid.

Children show these skills in many everyday problem-solving situations involving numbers and measurement. For instance, they may reason about who has more or less, devise strategies for creating equal shares of countable objects or amounts, or use counting in a range of situations to reason about a single group of objects or to compare two groups.

‘Children informally build these skills in their everyday interactions with carers and other children, and they can be encouraged to develop their understanding in play situations,’ the report states.

How early learning affects later learning

Children enter school with a range of early numeracy skills but they vary greatly in how they acquire, and how quickly they acquire, different concepts.

According to the report, children’s informal number sense when they enter school provides a foundation for their school mathematics achievement and strongly predicts their mathematics competence later in school.

The report pointed to several recent longitudinal studies that have investigated mathematical development in the transition from preschool to the early years of primary school. In one study, counting skills and understanding of quantities and the relationships between them in the year before starting primary school predicted children’s mathematics achievement and teacher ratings of competence in mathematics one year later. Other studies demonstrated that on-entry to school, number sense measures and numeracy knowledge predicted mathematics achievement in later school years.

How to support early numeracy development

‘Fostering understanding of early numeracy development among preschool educators is an important step towards developing early learning contexts that support children to develop mathematical thinking,’ the report said.

‘Research strongly suggests that early numeracy development can be supported by interactions between young children, and family members and early childhood educators.’

Parents positively influence their children’s maths achievement when they engage in direct (for example, teaching their children the number words and counting) and indirect (for example, integrating numeracy into everyday tasks such as cooking) numeracy practices with their child at home.

One approach to fostering numeracy practices is through increasing the knowledge of early childhood educators about what young children understand about numeracy, how growth occurs and how educators can promote understanding. ■

Further information:

Read the report, Counting on it: Early numeracy development and the preschool child by Dr Kate Reid. This report is the second in a series of papers, Changing minds: Discussions in neuroscience, psychology and research, published by ACER.

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