Activities and Games For Early Numeracy 

(Un)knowingly, we use mathematics every day. And yet, it’s not uncommon to hear students complain that they hate math. I mean, I loved school but hated math. Not disliked. Hated. 
It can become a vicious circle.

Vicious cycle of maths


If you end up with an unskilled teacher, the chances of coming out of this circle are pretty slim. However, there are people who just love numbers. Maybe you get to feel a little spark of  love for numbers after learning some interesting facts about numbers:

  • Zero can't be represented in Roman numerals.
  • The most favourite number is 7.
  • A ‘googolplex’ is the number 1 followed by a googol zeros. It is a number so big that it can’t be written because there literally isn't enough room in the entire universe to fit it in!
  • 6 is the smallest perfect number, meaning it can be made by summing its divisors

OK, these are not the facts I told my kids. For Einstein E and Power P words such as quadrillion, quintillion, undecillion...are amazing enough. 

However, numeracy is not something we start learning and understanding at school. Children understand a lot about numbers before they start learning mathematic formally. As parents, we can help them develop these skills in early childhood. You are probably already doing it. Singing ´Five little ducks` or any other song with numbers is a great way to help young children develop this number sense. (It is a term we use to describe this informal mathematical knowledge). And it provides a sound foundation for learning mathematics at school. 

 Activities for developing numeracy skills

(No preparation needed)

1)    Songs and nursery rhymes

There are many songs designed to help children to count. However, it is not only about naming the numbers in a song.

And don´t forget to use the fingers!

Using fingers as counters is how children make a visual link between numbers and quantities. Finger-based strategies play an important role in learning and understanding arithmetic (1).

2)    Out and about

Spending time outside is an excellent way to, among other things, notice numbers and count. From saying numbers on car plates, house numbers, bus and train lines to counting steps and stairs, and birds by the lake. 

3)    Drawing

It is a great way to develop language and numeracy skills. Simply demonstrate and tell what you are drawing, and children will do the same. Oh, look! My alien has got three eyes, five antennas, round arms and ears in a shape of a rectangle. This one is smaller but has got longer legs and seven toes…

4)    Board games

From simple Don`t Get Angry or Snakes and Ladders games to more complicated versions of Dungeons and Dragons, there is always something to do with numbers. Sometimes they have to count the dots on a dice. Sometimes, like in D&D which our kids play with their dad, there is more than one dice in a game, so they have to add, subtract, compare, and get very creative.

5)    Books

Kids start with simple touch-and-feel books where you read about one white kitten and five yellow ducks. Before you know it, you find yourself reading about dinosaurs that lived between 230 and 65 million years ago, or the Mount Everest, an 8,848 metres high mountain and comparing it with Zugspitze, which is “only” 2,962 metres above the sea level. 


(Some preparation needed for these activities)

7)    Connect the numbers

This is an easy to make activity which you can use to start teaching younger kids about upcycling, work on some motor skills and numbers. They also get to play with paint :) 

kid connecting numbers

6)    Labyrinth

This numbers labyrinth, as shown in the linked article, is a great way for children to play with numbers, think ahead and have fun. If you don't glue the cards, you can play it over and over again, each time with a different solution.
numbers labyrinth - final

8)   Numbers treasure hunt

This game is based on a treasure hunt idea with some adding, subtracting, and reading activities. And because it was inspired by an imaginary character from one story our boys loved, they called it "Kribli-Krabli treasure hunt".

 9) Snakes and Ladders

While making and playing this board game, you can also work on some numeracy and language skills. 

playing snakes and ladders

10) Numbers Memory Game

Memory, concentration, numbers recognition, naming, adding, subtracting... This game has it all :)

kid playing numbers memory game

11) Stack Attack for Practising Addition

cups and a grid for stack attack

You can find more about early numeracy at  an excellent article written by K. Reid published by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

(1) Berteletti, I., & Booth, J. R. (2015). Perceiving fingers in single-digit arithmetic problems. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 226.