Numeracy, according to the most recent PIAAC (Programme for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies) report, is defined as “the ability to access, use, interpret and communicate mathematical information and ideas, in order to engage in and manage the mathematical demands of a range of situations in adult life” (OECD 2012). In more simplified terms, it can be defined as “the ability to understand and work with numbers.”
Have you ever thought about how prevalent numbers are in daily life? Similar to environmental print (print that is found in our everyday environment), numbers are everywhere – whether you are using your computer or cell phone, planning or preparing a meal, shopping, or heading out for a stroll.
Numeracy is about shapes, patterns, sorting and understanding the language of numbers, rather than adding and subtracting, or computing a series of mathematical equations. To me it is about having a good understanding of:
- Number sense – a flexible understanding of what numbers are – that 1 is the same as the word one and can be represented by a single object or fact, that many parts can make up a whole
- Counting – numbers follow each other in sequence either up or down, in pairs or groups
- Shapes – recognizing both 2D and 3D shapes in our daily lives
- Measurement – this can relate to distance, size, value or time
- Patterns and sequencing – what comes next and how to duplicate and create new patterns
- Sorting or categorizing – why are things grouped in a certain way
- Problem solving – if this happens, then what might happen next?
- Language of numbers – words that are used to describe the concept of numbers, like over/under, bigger/smaller, more than/less than, same/different, trial and error
Children are born mathematicians. They start early, learning about the concepts of numeracy long before they know what numeracy means. This is demonstrated when you see or hear a child:
- Proudly hold up his fingers to show you that he is 3 – number sense
- Tell you that you need to STOP – shape and colour of the stop sign
- Ask you how many sleeps until a special event – measurement
- Separate the different colours or shapes of their toys – sorting and categorizing
- Figure out how many pieces of apple are needed so that each friend gets a piece – problem solving
- Explain that she is “much more bigger” than her little brother
There are many simple ways to support children in their understanding of numeracy. You are probably already doing some of these things without giving any thought to numeracy!
- Count the number of leaves on a flower stem.
- Find shapes in the playground.
- Spend time building with Lego or blocks.
- Get help setting the table, asking how many plates, cups, and forks are needed.
- Bake some cookies.
- Get your child to help sorting the laundry, making sure to ask why they sorted the way they did. It may seem random to you but they will have a reason.
Numeracy today is about more than just the ability to count, multiply and divide. Like literacy, it is an essential skill that should be learned in the home long before a child starts on their formal learning journey.
3,2,1 Fun! program information (there will be a session starting in January 2015 – watch for updates!)