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The importance of mathematics and numeracy in early childhood education

Mathematics and numeracy are often seen as interchangeable, however, they each have many different characteristics that define them. Siemon (2015, p. 183) states ‘the essence of numeracy is being prepared to use mathematics to understand a particular situation or issue better’. Whereas, mathematics can be described as ‘the science of space, number, quantity, and arrangement, whose methods involve logical reasoning and usually the use of symbolic notation and which includes geometry, arithmetic, algebra and analysis; mathematical operations or calculations’ (Siemon, 2015, p. 185).

Numeracy is hard to assess, as it is more about the selection and use of maths in the real world as opposed to using it in an artificial environment (Grimmley, 2016). Numeracy or being numerate, is about having the confidence, capacity and disposition to use maths in everyday life. Mathematics is more about abstract ideas, a body of knowledge we learn.

Siemon ( 2015, p. 185) states, ‘mathematics does not need to consider the real world as it can focus purely on abstract constructs and ideas regardless of their potential application’, numeracy, on the other hand, ‘is the application of mathematics in authentic contexts’.

Numeracy in the real world consists of understanding and being able to apply mathematical skills, such as reading a recipe and being able to apply the maths of halving or doubling ingredients. Making connections with the mathematical concepts of fractions and addition and then being able to apply those skills in a real life situation is being numerate.

Mathematics is about gaining knowledge of concepts such as addition, subtraction, fractions, measurement and time. Mathematics has more of a focus on the formal learning of calculations rather than its application in the real world. One may argue mathematics is knowing how to count, add, subtract and multiple, all of which are mathematical concepts that have a factual right or wrong answer, 4 + 4 = 8, this statement is true, whereas numeracy on the other hand is being able to identify the need to use such mathematical concepts. For example, having a dinner party and knowing how many knives and forks are needed for 8 people, is the ability to use mathematical skills in a real life situation.

Mathematics and Numeracy is fundamental in the development and enhancement of a child’s learning journey. Providing children with an array of quality mathematical and numeric experiences will assist in their journey of becoming confident, capable and lifelong learns.


Written by Suzette Lageman
Capalaba Child Care and Early Education Centre