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Mathematics: Numeracy

wood sound number puzzle

From Reciting to Understanding

When reciting numbers in ascending order or saying the alphabet, young children are usually simply demonstrating memorization skills. Numeracy and literacy require understanding the meaning those symbols and being able to put that knowledge to work. A number represents a specific quantity and is used in counting and calculating. Letters combine to form words.

Patterns Emerge

The particular arrangement of numerals signifies a particular arithmetical value. A specific arrangement of letters creates a specific word. The same numerals and letters can be arranged in multiple ways with very different meanings. Take the numerals 1, 2, and 3. These three numbers can be arranged to become 123, 132, 213, 231, 312, and 321. The letters o, p, and t can be arranged to read opt, pot, or top. Making calculations  and reading demand our attention. Numbers and letters are symbols we learn to decipher while developing reading, writing, and arithmetic skills.

Activities of Daily Living

We’re planting seeds of understanding when we impart information during daily activities. Dressing provides numerous opportunities. Naming the garments and enlisting cooperation as we’re putting each one on is one way. Guiding an arm into a sleeve while saying “let’s put this arm in this sleeve, one arm, one sleeve, there we go” gives meaning to the number one and shows one-to-one correspondence. One is one, whether an arm or a sleeve. The body offers many opportunities for learning words and numbers. From head to toes-two eyes, one nose, two ears, one mouth, two hands, 10 fingers, two feet, 10 toes.

Mother Goose and Finger Play

Nursery rhymes provide early lessons in literacy and numeracy. Thank Mother Goose for “This Little Piggy.”  Jennifer Griffin writing in Humpty Who? provides accompanying finger play that delights infants and toddlers.

This little piggy went to market,

Wiggle baby’s big toe between your thumb and index finger

This little piggy stayed home,

Wiggle second toe.

This little piggy had roast beef,

Wiggle middle toe.

This little piggy had none.

Wiggle fourth toe.

This little piggy went

  Wee, wee, wee,

  all the way home.

Wiggle the little toe and then run your fingers up      

the baby’s foot and leg as far as you can get.

At the Supermarket

Young children learn numeracy from everyday activities too. While at the supermarket buying fresh fruit, we can point out the number of bananas in a bunch or count apples as we’re putting them in the produce bag. This shows a child that a number represents a specific, unchanging quantity, regardless of what is being counted, and reenforces the sequence of numbers.

Zero is A Cardinal Number

When we’re learning to count, typically we begin at one. We can see one-to-one correspondence and understand quantity. Yet our cardinal number system starts with zero, and understanding that concept is critical. While shopping for produce, show an empty bag and ask “how many apples are in the bag?” Answer, “zero.” Point out that the bag is empty. Then add an apple, and again ask “how many apples are in the bag now?” When buying number puzzles, choosing one that begins with zero re-enforces the concept of 0: naught, no quantity, no number. When children learn 0 through 9, they’re better able to understand how our number system progresses. Consider Sound Numbers Puzzle from Melissa & Doug. Under every numeral is an illustration of the quantity the number represents.  The space below 0 is blank. This puzzle also shows how easily the numbers zero to nine become 10 to 19. Playing around with the individual numbers creates new ones. Different arrangements, different values.

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Hey Diddle Diddle

What does Hey Diddle Diddle bring to mind? The cat and the fiddle and how “the cow jumped over the moon, the little dog laughed to see such sport, and the dish ran away with the spoon”? Maybe not. Maybe you’re in the dark, searching your memory for clues ? Either way, Humpty Who? is a book for you.

Described as “a crash course in 80 nursery rhymes for clueless moms and dads,” the book also includes a sing-along disk of 35 songs. For those who grew up with these delightful ditties, the book brings back fond memories. With background info, fun facts, and instructions for bringing the rhymes to life with music and movement, Humpty Who? has something for everyone.

Who knew that “Baa, Baa Black Sheep” is a protest against taxation? The master taking that first bag of wool is the government.

Ever wonder how much a peck is? About two gallons. Now you know how many pickled peppers Peter Piper picked. What I’m wanting to know is who pickled the peppers before the peppers were picked? and how?

Does “A Tisket, A Tasket” bring to mind Ella Fitzgerald? Put on her classic recording. What better way to share this jazz legend with a new generation??

Want to introduce a wee one to diverse languages? “Alouette,” “Fais Dodo,” and “Les Petites Marionettes” appear in French as well as English. The author notes that versions of the childhood favorite “Frère Jacques” appear in many different European languages and includes the ones in German, Italian, and Spanish.

Author Jennifer Griffin offers directions for adding finger play to “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Where Is Thumbkin? And gets us on our feet with “Teddy Bear, Teddy Bear” and “Skip to My Loo”.

Time spent sharing nursery rhymes is time well-spent. Their playful language and engaging actions develop language, motor, and social skills, and simply being together having fun builds life-long attachments.


PlayopolisToys – for the diverse needs of the citizens of play