30 days has September,

April, June and November

All the rest have 31

And February’s great with 28

And Leap Year’s February’s fine with 29.

This popular and timeless rhyme has helped many of us memorize the number of days in the year easily. While Mathematics has been the bane of many a student life, it has also been the most important navigational tool in our lives apart from language itself.  

What is numeracy and why is it important?

Numeracy is the ability to apply math concepts in all areas of life. Understanding numbers, counting, measuring, sorting, noticing patterns, adding and subtracting numbers etc. all involve numeracy in some form or another. Counting out the change that you should get, looking at bank balances, balancing our accounts, paying bills – all of which are crucial to our everyday lives.

We all need numeracy to:

Solve problems – for example, which brand and size of rice are the cheapest?

Analyse and make sense of information – for example, calculating the fuel needed for a long road trip ensuring you do not get stranded anywhere.  

Understand patterns – The itsy bitsy spider is an example of a pattern. The spider goes up the spout, gets washed out by rain, but goes up again when the rain dries the spout up. A pattern is a series or sequence that repeats. 

Make choices – for example, which pair of shoes or winter coat is the best value for money? is it economical to eat at a work canteen or to take food from home? 

For planning – for example, how much money must we save for retirement? What can we afford as a mortgage?

So math is required for the simplest of tasks like judging how much food will be enough for 7 people to how many grocery bags will hold all your shopping needs to making sure you have a comfortable retirement and can pay for health care.

How can we help our children develop their numeracy skills from the very beginning?

Children start building numeracy skills from the time they’re born. Such learning happens from watching and experiencing numeracy in action, especially in everyday play and activities.

If anything is compulsory or mandated, it becomes boring. Sometimes in a bid to equip our children and maximize their abilities, we could end up making something like Math overwhelming and make them averse to learning it. So how can we make it fun and interesting for kids to learn and get interested in mathematics?

Through everyday activities – Our everyday experiences are full of learning opportunities that lay the foundations for numeracy. Put on your two shoes and take ten steps to the elevator. How many bananas are left in the basket? The apple is round. Everything we do has numbers, shapes and sizes associated with it. Try talking to babies about it without making it a chore. They will learn the concepts automatically.

Through play - It’s good to build your child’s numeracy and maths skills through play. Make handprints with paint and count how many fingers there are. How many blocks can we use to build a tower?

Through music and sound – Many popular nursery rhymes and songs are around number Remember one, two buckle my shoe?  Music makes it easy for us to recall things because we tend to repeat and remember.

How can we help babies to develop numeracy skills?

Your baby responds to your voice from the very start. Talking and reading to babies keeps them engaged and helps boost development and learning. We all do some form of this like:

Reading stories with numbers – from ‘Goldilocks and the three bears’ to ‘Akkad bakkad’ many books have numbers in them.

Playing counting games – Counting fingers and toes of babies. Who does not love tickling those soft baby toes and feet?

Singing number songs and rhymes – Sing a song of sixpence, pocket full of rye, anyone? There are many popular rhymes that bring back our own childhoods as we sing them to our children.

Point out things to babies – See the red car? Can you see the small bird on that tall tree?

Ask questions – Eat one more spoonful of baby food. Would like to have one more piece of apple?

Changing your tone of voice to describe concepts – We do this especially with babies as we use a big voice to describe something big, or a little voice to describe something little.


For toddlers:

Toddlers are more aware of the world, are developing spatial skills, can identify patterns, understand weights etc. This gives us a wider choice of tools to enhance their numeracy skills.  

Reading: toddlers can understand more and so we can step up the complexity of the stories we read to them. They also can identify pictures and we can use the opportunity to help them recognize numbers, shapes etc in the books we read to them.

Play: Make a tower with 20 blocks. How many stamps can we make on a page? Let us make a long track for the cars. Play is the work of childhood and a great opportunity to develop concepts. Also, everything can be made into play, even a chore or everyday activity. How many peas are in the pod you are shelling?

Eating: Can you count how many peanuts there are in your bowl? How many pancakes can you eat? Can you share half the orange with your friend?

We actually use all these concepts every day with our children. The point is to be aware that these help with learning and use them in a fun way to enhance learning.  Children learn best when they’re interested in something. If a child is doing something they are particularly interested in – be it about dinosaurs, dolls, cars, building, insects or whatever – we can use and explore maths concepts with they while they play.

However, learning happens at a different pace for each child and it is important to remember to have fun and make memories while doing all this. While there are teaching opportunities in everything, there are also opportunities to bond, build social skills, make friends etc.

January 06, 2020 — Suchismita Pai

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