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.
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 Puzzle Numbers. 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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