Strategies for Teaching Early Numeracy Skills

Instructor: Clio Stearns

Clio has taught education courses at the college level and has a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction.

One part of teaching young children is preparing them to understand mathematics. This means learning how numbers work and how they relate to one another. This lesson gives you some ideas for teaching early numeracy skills to children.

What is Numeracy?

Laura is a kindergarten teacher who has become more interested in setting her children up to succeed academically in their future schooling. One thing she learns is the importance of teaching numeracy skills; in other words, helping her young students understand what numbers are, how they relate to one another, and how they work together in basic operations. Laura learns that teaching early numeracy does not require her to lecture her young children or to give them reams of worksheets. Rather, she works with some basic teaching strategies that aid her students in their explorations and help them move along toward a more sophisticated mathematical understanding.

Play-Based Teaching

Like many early childhood educators, Laura believes that the best teaching occurs when young children are able to learn through play. Laura observes her students at play in the morning, during a daily choice time, and sometimes even at recess or before and after school. When she notices them engaging in play that involves numbers, she interjects helpful statements and sets up environments that will help them learn more. For instance, when Laura sees students playing store, she gives them play money and teaches them how to count pennies. When she sees them racing cars, she teaches them to use numbers that describe who has more cars and which cars go the farthest and fastest. This play-based teaching is effective because it is organic and meaningful to young children.

Counting, Comparing, and Contrasting

Laura knows that a big part of early numeracy has to do with counting, understanding what numbers represent, and relating numbers to one another. She uses different strategies to get her students to count, compare, and contrast.

  • Morning Meeting

At morning meeting each day, Laura has her students count how many students are present and absent. She writes down these numbers and teaches students to use sentences like, 'There are more students absent today than yesterday.'

  • Describing the Classroom

At one of her centers during a math workshop, Laura helps her students count and compare numbers in the classroom. They learn to count windows, doors, shelves, and school supplies. Her students learn to make statements like, 'There are fewer tables than chairs in our classroom.' More advanced students practice counting by twos as well.

  • Categorizing

Laura has seen that young students can be very interested in categorizing, so she teaches them to use their numeracy skills to describe themselves and each other. Students might make statements like, 'Four students are wearing shorts, and three are wearing long pants. There are more kids wearing shorts than pants.'

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