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Early Numeracy

by Richard Korbosky

Mathematics for young learners should involve:


Our aim in education is to develop a learning environment which reflects a diversity of approaches and fosters communication and cooperation among the learners.

One way of creating a supportive learning environment for learners is to give them a chance to play games which focus on essential mathematical concepts and ideas. Playing games increases participation, engages the students and connects play to learning key ideas and enjoyment of mathematics. Students can be given game situations which allow them to either practise the skill in focus or to learn concepts and skills by manipulating mathematical materials and responding to clues within a game. Both types of games are important to enrich the mathematics classroom, achieve Mathematics Learning Area Outcomes and reflect key understandings of First Steps in Mathematics (Number). The practice-type games require students to know the mathematics before they play the game. Games which focus on learning give students the opportunity to internalise the mathematics ideas as well as give them practice of the mathematical ideas.

Games that focus on learning ideally should have an element of play, have a hands-on approach and be student-centred. They should allow students to work cooperatively, communicate with one another, manipulate mathematical materials, respond to clues, understand different mathematical representations and develop knowledge of the language of mathematics.

In this period of accountability, teachers need games they know will engage their students in learning and games that focus on outcomes embedded in curriculum documents. Increasingly, teachers are also asking for games which give them opportunities to cater for the different levels of students in their classrooms. Frequently, one game, as with one activity, does not cater for the diverse levels within the class. Teachers are also asking for strategies that will give them an opportunity to evaluate their students’ work.

Mathematics games which focus on learning and allow teachers to achieve what they have to do as professionals are needed. There needs to be a concerted effort by curriculum writers to cater for these diverse outcomes in learning and teaching. Teachers need to look at games and make a judgment as to their suitability in achieving what they are being asked to implement in their classrooms in this modern era.

Throw a die addition

This game has a learning focus and reflects mathematics ideas such as manipulating materials, drawing quantity, writing numbers, saying numbers and adding small numbers.


This is a cooperative learning mathematics game suitable for 2, 3 or 4 students. It may also be played between the teacher and one student, to address specific learning needs.

Each group needs:

The bank

For this game, it is suggested that the bank has 150 craft sticks or 150 counters.

How to play


There are several strategies that can be used to cater for different ability levels.

1. Dice

To make the games easier/harder, use different dice.

2. Calculation

To make the games easier, don’t use the calculation column. Once the students have an understanding of the game, introduce this column to find out where their thinking is at.

3. Recording

How the number of craft sticks/counters is recorded on the sheet can be determined by the age and ability of the players.