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ECE Resources

Number skills: symbolic (understanding written numerals and number words)

Type 1: Rote counting/Ordinal relations 
Understanding the order of number words 1-10 either forward or backward, starting from the beginning, end, or somewhere in between

1 How to spot this skill being applied in free play

Talk

  • Spontaneous counting from 1 (‘1, 2, 3, 4, 5…’)
  • The child counts down from 5 in order to launch a pretend rocket (‘5,4,3,2,1, blastoff’) or before searching for hidden friends during a game of Hide-and-Seek
  • Noting which number comes after another ‘5 comes after 4/before 6’
  • Talking about general ordering (‘I want to be first/last in line!’)

Behaviour

  • Putting objects in line while labeling the objects in order (‘first, second, third, fourth…’)
  • Pointing to each object while counting
  • Distributing toys one by one to a friend, or when setting the table for ‘dinner’ during dramatic play

2 Check for understanding

  • Ask the child to count as high as they can starting at 1, count down from 5, or count up/down from other numbers. 
  • Ask the child what number comes before or after another number (e.g., ‘what number comes after/before 5?’)
  • Ask child to label the order of objects in a line (‘which one is first, second third, fourth, etc.’)

3 Guided activities to support this skill

  • Snakes and Ladders: prompt children to recite the count sequence to remind them of the next/previous number on the space
  • There are numerous nursery rhymes and stories that expose children to the verbal count list in forwards or backwards order (listed here). For more of a challenge, start at a random spot in the number sequence and have the child predict what number comes next
  • When following a cooking recipe, emphasise the order of each step (‘first we add the eggs, second we stir in the flour’). You can also emphasise the order of children in line

Type 2: Numeral identification 
Recognising and labeling written Arabic numerals (e.g., 4)

1 How to spot this skill being applied in free play

Talk

  • ‘That’s a 4’, describing a written numeral printed on playing cards, play money/register, or book pages

Behaviour

  • Gaining exposure to printed numerals via a toy cash register buttons/screen, or looking at numbers labeled on play money or book pages.

2 Check for understanding

  • Print numerals on cards and ask child to name them (‘what number is this?’) in a random order. 
  • Show child a series of 4 numerals all at once and have them point to the one that matches the number requested (e.g., ‘point to 4’)

3 Guided activities to support this skill

  • Go Fish: pointing to numbers on the cards and asking the child to label them
  • Snakes and Ladders: ask the child to label the printed numbers on the spinner and spaces
  • Ask the child to label page numbers and any printed numerals in storybooks
  • Ask the child to find/label numbers around the classroom/signs/clocks

By Dr Erica Zippert

PREPARED FOR THE EDUCATION HUB BY

Dr Erica Zippert

Dr Erica Zippert is a Postdoctoral Research Associate at Purdue University. She studies young children’s broad mathematics development and how it is supported during social and playful interactions with parents and peers in a variety of informal contexts. She also examines the roles of context (traditional activities/games as well as digital apps/eBooks, activity goals), and parent and child factors (parental beliefs, child math abilities and interests) in determining the quality of early math experiences and subsequent math learning.