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8 Ways to Build Early Numeracy Skills (age 2 and up!)

Did you know - it has been scientifically proven that children’s early numeracy abilities at the preschool age can predict their success in Math and other academic areas in their later schooling years? This means that a child who has acquired good numeracy foundations in their early years has a higher chance of doing well in Mathematics when they enter Primary School and beyond.

What are early numeracy skills?

Early numeracy includes skills like:

  • Recognizing simple shapes (circle, square, triangle, rectangle), colours and size differences

  • Verbal, rote counting (can say the numbers sequentially “1,2,3,....” and know where a number is in the sequence eg. '5' comes after '4', before '6')

  • Knowing the number symbols (eg. says “three” when shown the “3” symbol)

  • When counting items, realises that the last number counted up to is the size of the set (also known as ‘cardinality’)

  • Recognizing quantities and comparing sets of items

  • Discerning patterns

  • Manipulating quantities eg. adding and taking away items from a set also has a very helpful list of numeracy milestones your child develops at different ages.

How can you help your child to develop these skills at home?

The great news is that children pick up these skills informally, through normal activities they may experience day to day. For example, looking at numbers as they press lift buttons or having to share one of their three cookies with a sibling, and realizing they only have two left!

However, you can actively help your child to gain these skills as well. And no, you don’t need worksheets or assessment books, especially if your child cannot hold a pencil and write yet!

1. In Singapore and most big cities, many of us live in high rise buildings. Lifts are a great chance to practice rote counting and recognizing number symbols. When pressing lift buttons, say the number out loud, then count aloud with your child as the numbers on the lift’s display panel change. The great thing about this is that you can count up if the lift is going up, and count backwards if the lift is going down. If you do this once a day (and if you live on a high enough floor), your child will get a daily dose of ‘numbers’.

2. Sing fun number songs like “Five Little Monkeys”, “Five Little Ducks”, “Once I Caught a Fish Alive” and “Ten /Six in the Bed”. We have shared links to Super Simple Song’s versions here (we love their cute and beautifully illustrated songs). Young children love songs and learn very well with them (even adults do!) and these songs will have your children reciting the number sequence without realising it.

3. Get your child involved when you are preparing food for them - food and numbers, yum! For example, count out 10 grapes into a bowl for them, let them eat one and ask them to count how many are left! You can do the same with biscuits, get them to share a certain number with a family member, then count the number left behind. Ask them to look at their own plate and the other person’s - who has more and who has less?

4. Count your fingers and toes - when you are waiting for the bus, train or Grab car, count how many fingers you have and how many the child has. Help the child to realize that hey, you both have the same number of fingers - 10! And you have 5 fingers on each hand. Count toes in the bath - compare the number of fingers and toes (it’s the same!)

5. Time and numbers - look at the calendar and clocks together, both are great not only for introducing the concept of time, but children also get exposed to the numbers involved (eg. 1 to 31 for the days of the month and 1 to 12 for the hours). Count the hours till it’s time for bed or look at which day their birthday falls on!

6. Shapes are everywhere - point them out as you are out and about, or even at home. Plates and bowls are circles, chocolate bars, the TV and books are rectangles, cushions and sliced bread are squares, while pizza and cake slices are cut into triangles! If you can, let your children trace the shapes with their fingers as you say their names.

7. Colours are everywhere too - In the morning as you are dressing to go out, compare the colours of the clothes you and your child are wearing - are they the same or different? When you are at the supermarket, take the chance to introduce and compare colours especially in the fruits and vegetables section!

8. Patterns, patterns, patterns - things of different shapes, colours, sizes, etc can be used to form patterns. Cereal, like Froot Loops, that come in the same shape but different colours are great for this activity, else M&Ms. Wooden building blocks in different colours and shapes work well too. Our range of Skoolzy educational toys (Colours Peg Board Set, Shapes Peg Board Set and Lacing Alphabet Beads) or our Bear Counters and Tweezers set are perfect for practicing counting and introducing colours (and shapes) and patterns.

We hope this list of activities gives you some good ideas on how you can reinforce the early numeracy skills of your child - do practice them and share with us on our Instagram or Facebook if you have other ideas that we can add!


Raghubar, K., & Barnes, M. (2018). Early numeracy skills in preschool-aged children: A review of neurocognitive findings and implications for assessment and intervention. Clin Neuropsychol. 2017 February ; 31(2): 329–351. doi:10.1080/13854046.2016.1259387


About the Author

Hsin Ee is a mum of a bunch of rowdy and active boys. If you see a woman hollering madly at three boys in a shopping mall or a MRT station, it's probably her.


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