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  • Writer's pictureJordan Raglow

Developing Life-Long Number Literacy

I’ve heard countless times, “I’m just not good at math.” While I’m a firm believer that everyone has different skills and proficiencies, I challenge the notion that some people simply aren’t wired for mathematical thinking. Instead, perhaps they never fully developed the skills required for proficient mathematical processing. We wouldn’t expect someone who never learned all of the phonetic sound combinations of the English language to be a great reader. Math is no different.


Numerary literacy, or number sense, is the general ability to understand numbers and number relationships. It allows for mental computation, estimation, problem-solving, and understanding number relationships. Number sense begins early but requires maintenance. While much of this numerary literacy is honed in on, and solidified in school, there are many ways in which parents can help their children to make strides in these skills at home. If you are looking to help support your little mathematician, or simply aid in their development of problem-solving skills, give some of the options below a try!


Get cooking! Cooking is a great way to incorporate math in a fun and yummy way. You have to take accurate measurements, convert measurements (when the ½ measuring cup mysteriously disappears - unless that only happens at my house), or double a recipe or cut it in half.



Make a schedule. Have your kids help you determine the schedule for a Saturday morning. For example, if they have a soccer game at 10:00, have them help figure out what time they need to get up in the morning based on how long it takes to drive there, how long they need to get ready, etc. This type of backwards planning is a great way to work on elapsed time – a skill that many students really struggle with. Not only that, but it’s simply a great life skill.


Money talks. Work with your kiddo on managing their money. Maybe there’s a new video game they really want to save up for. Help them count the money they’ve already saved and figure out how much more they need. Then brainstorm ways for them to earn it! Another idea is to give them a budget for somewhere you’re already going. For instance, if you’re in a candy store on a vacation, give them a small budget and let them figure out what they can buy with their given allotment. As they get older, these conversations can be more in-depth and advanced. Such as, helping your teenager manage car expenses.


Think aloud. We all know kids are full of questions. The next time your child asks you a question that requires you to reason through a situation, do some mental problem solving, or mental math – think about it aloud. In doing so, you are giving your kids a window into how to solve problems and how to use mental math to get to a reasonable estimate.


Count, sort, and describe. For the really little ones, math concepts can look simple but have a big impact. When your toddler is playing with their toys talk about the colors and shapes that you see. Sort them based on different attributes – color, size, shape, etc. Count everything! Count the stairs as you walk up and down them, count their toes, or how many goldfish are on their plate. You can even throw in some vocabulary terms like more or less, taller or shorter, heavier or lighter, etc. These little things are the building blocks of higher math skills.


Exposure. One of the biggest classroom hurdles with math is students thinking that they will never use the material being taught to them. While the vast majority of us will never actually need to use the Pythagorean Theorem in our everyday life, many of the math concepts and problem-solving skills we were taught are applied frequently. For example, using area and perimeter to make home improvements – how much carpet do I need and how much will it cost? If 8 people are coming over for dinner, do I have enough food for everyone? We are going on a road trip that’s 850 miles long, how long will it take to get there? Talk to your kids about these situations and explain to them the math that you’re doing to figure it out. Having this exposure can really create buy-in for the work their classroom teachers are asking them to do.


By making math more talked about and visible, we can help to foster a deep understanding of numbers in our kiddos that can support them through school and in their lives.

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