The Development of Numeracy Skills in Children

Instructor: Nichole Kurmaniak
Numeracy is mathematical literacy. Its development and internalization in students is essential to students' success in school and beyond, but there are factors that can affect students' development of this critical skillset.


Carrie, a second-grade teacher, is having her students work on various ways to represent the number 24. Some of the strategies that you may see in her class include tally marks, base ten blocks, number-lines, and arrays. All the students in Carrie's class work find a way to represent 24 at their own level. Carrie notices that Jess is struggling to find a way to represent 24. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Jess says, ''I'm just not good at math.'' Jess is demonstrating a lack of numeracy.

Mathematical literacy, also called numeracy, is the ability to understand and manipulate numbers, and to recognize and utilize mathematical concepts in the world. Numeracy is about how individuals use and apply mathematical concepts to live and grow in the world. This includes concepts of numerical value, mathematical operations, time and money concepts, problem-solving, measurement, and much more. Developing good numeracy is essential to doing well in school and beyond.

Developing Numeracy

There is a three-point approach that works well across all mathematical areas in developing numeracy in children.

  • Think: Students must think about the problem presented to them and what they already know.
  • Solve: Students use what they know to solve the problem presented to them.
  • Build: Students use the problem to build their understanding of the specific concepts.

In this activity, students will be presented a mathematical problem. Students may be asked to divide up stones equally among friends. The students would think about what they know: how many friends, how many stones, ways they have divided things in the past. Once they have determined the best course of action, they can put their plan into action and solve the problem. After the problem has been solved the students can reflect upon the work that they have done and build understanding for future mathematical thinking.

/cimages/multimages/16//cimages/multimages/16/{/cimages/multimages/16/I/cimages/multimages/16/m/cimages/multimages/16/a/cimages/multimages/16/g/cimages/multimages/16/e/cimages/multimages/16/ /cimages/multimages/16/s/cimages/multimages/16/r/cimages/multimages/16/c/cimages/multimages/16/=/cimages/multimages/16/'/cimages/multimages/16/'/cimages/multimages/16/ /cimages/multimages/16/a/cimages/multimages/16/l/cimages/multimages/16/t/cimages/multimages/16/=/cimages/multimages/16/'/cimages/multimages/16/N/cimages/multimages/16/u/cimages/multimages/16/m/cimages/multimages/16/e/cimages/multimages/16/r/cimages/multimages/16/a/cimages/multimages/16/c/cimages/multimages/16/y/cimages/multimages/16/'/cimages/multimages/16/}/cimages/multimages/16/(info)/cimages/multimages/16/

Ensuring Success

Beyond thoughtful lesson planning, there are two further ideas that should be kept in mind to ensure success. Instilling a positive attitude about mathematics and connecting mathematical thinking to the world are both essential components to developing effective numeracy in students.

Positive Attitude

For students to develop a sense of numeracy, they must see themselves as mathematical thinkers. A positive attitude about mathematics is a strong predictor of student success, both in school and afterward. It is essential for students to see success and then to continue to strive for more success in mathematics.

Connecting Math Concepts to the World

Connecting mathematical concepts to the world helps students to internalize the concepts. Mathematics concepts show up in all areas of our lives: sorting silverware by attributes, cutting a pizza into fractional slices, determining the amount of soil needed for a raised garden plot. Pointing out these connections to the world ensures that students see themselves as mathematical thinkers and ensures their success.

Disabled and Struggling Learners

The Institute for Educational Sciences prepared a report on developing numeracy in students with disabilities and other struggling learners. In this report, they identified seven categories of practices that benefit disabled and struggling learners: classroom math instruction, math supports and interventions, assessment, teacher collaboration, professional development in math and special education, leadership, and school culture.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use

Become a member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account