Friday, 28 January 2011

Numeracy starts in the nursery (or don't teach your toddler trigonometry)

Nowadays you don't have to be good at maths to be good with money.
With all the modern wizardry around- from calculators to on-line budgeting tools - only dinosaurs would be seen dead reciting their times tables.

But did you know that numeracy starts in the nursery?

Yes, a recent study from the US* found that when parents spoke more number words to their infants, the kids had better mathematical knowledge at age 3. Since early mathematical ability predicts later academic achievement there's a good chance these kids would go on to do better at school.

Numeracy is an innate ability. Even pigeons can count and chimps can do fractions**.  So your little ones have brains that are hard-wired to understand numbers.

Chimps also have amazing memory for numbers- bet you can't beat this one!

But I'm dead against hot-housing children so don't start teaching your toddler trigonometry whatever you do.
You could try dropping more number words into daily conversation and routines though. 
Perhaps the next time your two year old has lunch, instead of saying 'I'll cut up your veggie-burger', try saying 'I'll cut your veggie-burger into four pieces'. 

Of course the downside is she'll start telling you 'that's Mummy's fourth glass of wine', but by that time you'll be past caring.

*by Levine et al from University of Chicago, published in Developmental Psychology
** Woodruff, G., & Premack, D. (1981) Primitive mathematical concepts in the chimpanzee. Nature, 293, 568-570.


  1. Great post Karen. That certainly resonates with me. We (myself and my 2 brothers) learnt to play a card game called kalooki from the age of about 3. We played it most weekends through our childhood. My hands were too small to hold the 13 cards so my grandfather crafted me a card holder. But, interestingly, all 3 of us grew up to be good at, and enjoy, maths.

  2. Ooh, am loving the notion of a hand-crafted card-holder!!
    We used to love playing cards with mum and dad (had a jar of pennies too so learnt to gamble (innocently) early on). I did it with my kids too, it was great fun for everyone and now they're both very numerate. The less it looks like maths the more children take to it too, as they acquire the skill implicitly.
    I'm reminded of the studies of Brazilian street children who contributed to the family finances by selling coconuts etc on the streets. They had no formal education but could add, multiply, subtract and divide in their heads when given customer-vendor transactions (e.g. How much is a coconut at 83c and a corn-on-the-cob at 67c? How much change would I get out of 200c?) yet they couldn't solve school-type arithmetic problems (like 5 + 8 =?). When numbers have meaning they make more sense, not just for kids but for us all.


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