The 50 School Readiness Skills: Developing Concept of Number.

The 50 School Readiness Skills: Developing Concept of Number.

As head of the Practica Advisory Service, I believe it’s high time for us to venture on a mission to discuss the 50 school readiness skills that the Practica Programme aims to develop.

The first skill is Concept of Number.

Q: Why is this skill viewed as one of the essential school readiness skills?

A: Being able to rote count from one to ten, and later to a hundred, is an important step in a child’s early mathematical development, but it’s equally important for a child to develop an understanding of the “how manyness” or the value that a number represents. That’s what we refer to when we use the term “Concept of Number”.

Grade R’s typically count to a hundred, but few truly understand the quantities that different numbers describe. Many freeze when you ask: “If he has six balls and she has eight balls, who has more?”

Children who don’t understand the value of numbers will naturally not be able to conjure up a mental image of two sets of objects (in this case, a set of six balls and a set of eight balls) and then compare the sets against each other to determine which one of the two is bigger or smaller.

What’s more, they won’t be able to create an image in their mind’s eye of a number line with each of the numbers in its place, based on the value that it represents. That’s a big deal, because children need to feel as comfortable with the number line as they are with their own name for them to confidently work with numbers in a school setting and perform well in maths.

Q: What can I expect from my child in this regard?

A: Toddlers discover the meaning of “one and many” during the second year of life. Two-year-olds usually learn to rote count to three and you can teach them to hand you either one or two toys. Three-year-olds can be expected to count to five and understand the concepts of one, two and three.  Well-developing four-year-olds can rote count to 10 and count off any number of objects from 1 to 5. Most five-year-olds can easily count to 20 while having a real understanding of numbers up to 10. And finally, a six-year-old should be able to count to 100 (also in tens) and count off any number of objects between 1 and 20.

Q: “My three-year-old is able to count off any number of objects, up to five, and sometimes even higher numbers. Should we now skip the activities that are listed for three-year-olds in the Parents Guide?”

A: No. Don’t skip. If need be, adapt the games slightly to include bigger numbers.

Bear in mind that Practica’s math games are not only aimed at building number sense in your child. They also create opportunities at every step along the way for discovering many other mathematical concepts.

By repeating the games simply for the sake of playing them and having fun with your child, you’re creating a backdrop against which she can learn to look at numbers and the relationship between them in ways that you want to become automatic for her.

You’re basically creating an aptitude for numbers in her brain wiring.

Bear in mind that it takes time and repeated activation for neurons to change structurally so that they can reactivate one another more easily in the future. Practice may not necessarily always make perfect as the old saying promises, but one thing is for sure: practice always shapes a brain. That’s why brain building can be viewed through the analogy of muscle building: practice is key and you need to train all the muscles without skipping levels of progress.

Any kind of math play is better than none, but if you want your child to optimally benefit from the Practica Programme, you need to play as many of the listed games as possible and repeat them as often as possible.

Q: What does this mean in terms of time invested?

A: There are between 20 and 25 math games listed for each age group from two to six years of age. So, roughly speaking, you can introduce a new game every two weeks. It doesn’t sound like much effort, but just imagine the difference in a child that has been exposed to this level of parental involvement!

Until next time, Lizette van Huyssteen.


(Image Credit: