Numeracy can be defined as the capacity, confidence and disposition to use mathematics in daily life. Spatial sense, structure and pattern, number, measurement, data argumentation, connections and exploring the world mathematically are the powerful mathematical ideas children need to become numerate. Mathematics plays an important part in our everyday lives. We use maths when we read a bus timetable, find our favourite TV program, weigh out ingredients for cooking, count our money at the supermarket, or set the table for dinner. We understand that from a very young age, children are ‘learning about numeracy’ as they move their bodies about in space and listen to older children and adults counting baby’s fingers and toes ... ‘this little piggy went to market’, singing number rhymes, counting steps as they go ‘up, up, up’ and talking as they dress the baby ... ‘one button, two socks, a big, warm jacket for this cold day’.
Young children learn about numeracy as we: count things, look for shapes, use words about weights and measures, talk about the volume of water a bucket will hold, estimate distances ... It’s a long way to the Mulberry tree, but the sandpit is much closer, divide up and share out food.
Pre-schoolers are beginning to recognise numerals in the environment and discuss their purposes—house numbers tell location, bus numbers show destination, car number plates indicate ownership. Children in this age range talk about numbers, shapes and measurements—‘I’m as tall as the door knob now’—and they solve problems involving numeracy all the time, as they decide things like: How many trains will go in the station? How high can I build my tower before it falls over? Is the tower stronger if I put bigger blocks on the bottom and smaller ones higher up? They are beginning to use symbols, such as numbers and letters (often mixed up) in their drawings and paintings. This is a child’s way of coming to know.
In everyday experiences, children are always exploring and coming to understand mathematical concepts in all that they do.