Developing Numeracy

Unlocking the mysteries of number

Mathematics is first introduced in our Nursery and Reception Class through experiences in the Practical Life and the Sensorial areas and exposing children to the language of number through counting games, stories, and nursery rhymes. These experiences indirectly lay the groundwork for understanding mathematical concepts, allowing children to explore mathematical principles in a concrete way before moving on to abstract concepts. 

Nursery rhymes introduce numbers in a rhythmic and memorable way such as catchy rhymes like "Five Little Ducks," "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe," and "Ten in the Bed" to help children learn counting, basic arithmetic, and numerical sequencing. These rhymes not only reinforce numerical concepts but also promote language development and social interaction among children.

Developing an internal sense of order and logic

Practical life activities are not just about learning how to perform daily tasks; they also lay the foundation for more complex skills, including mathematical concepts. Activities on offer often involve following a sequence of steps, such as pouring water from one container to another or arranging beads in a specific pattern. These activities help children understand the concept of order and sequencing, which are fundamental to mathematical operations like counting and solving equations.

Many practical life activities require precise movements, such as using tweezers to transfer objects or using a spoon to scoop grains. This provides indirect preparation for one to one correspondence and counting.

Engaging in practical life activities requires concentration and focus, as children must pay attention to details and complete tasks accurately. These skills are essential for success in mathematics, where attention to detail and problem-solving are crucial.

Nurturing an eye for detail and precision

Sensorial materials help children develop and refine their senses and indirectly prepare children for mathematical concepts such as size, shape, volume, and spatial relationships. Activities are designed to help children notice similarities, differences and detail and include sorting, matching, ordering, sequencing and classifying according to shape, colour, size, sound, texture and form. 

For example, the Pink Tower helps children develop visual discrimination skills by distinguishing differences in size and dimension. The tower's blocks are all the same colour but differ in size, challenging children to notice subtle variations. Children learn to arrange the blocks from largest to smallest, introducing concepts of sequencing and ordering.  Similarly, the long rods are a set of wooden rods that vary in length but are all the same width and thickness. By working with the long rods, children learn to visually compare and contrast the different lengths, ordering them from shortest to longest or vice versa. 

Building blocks for early counting

One-to-one correspondence is a fundamental concept in counting. Counting with one-to-one correspondence is when the child counting touches each object and says the numeral name aloud, which is a far more complex skill than rote counting. 

It is the recognition that each number relates to something concrete. Early one to one correspondence at our nursery and Reception class includes systematically placing stones or objects into wooden frames or containers.

Our nursery starts with wooden three frames, moving to one to five wooden frames and ten frames. Wooden ten frames provide indirect preparation for base ten work as well as subitising and early addition.


Counting refers to the process of determining the total number of objects in a set. It involves assigning a unique natural number to each object in the set, ensuring that no object is missed and no object is counted more than once. This is a skill that needs to be taught and relies on the child demonstrating strong one to one correspondence. Both our nursery and Reception Classrooms have the wooden spindle boxes designed not only to support counting but also cardinality in that children physically feel holding 1 spindle is significantly different to holding 9 spindles in their small hands.

Ordinality refers to the capacity to place numbers in sequence, for example, to know that 4 comes before 5 and after 3 in the sequence of natural numbers. Children with a strong sense of ordinality are able to sequence numbers as well as identify missing numbers from a given sequence. Ordinality also involves teaching children to understand and use the terms first, second, third and so on.

Cardinality and number sense

Cardinality refers to understanding the quantity a number represents. When a child understands cardinality, they understand that when counting a set of objects understands that 5 represents all 5 objects collectively. This is closely linked to conservation of number.This is a principle in mathematics that refers to understanding that the quantity of a set remains the same even when its appearance changes

For example, if you have a row of five yellow counters, and you spread them out, a child who understands conservation of number understands that there are still five counters, even though they may look like more because they're spread out.

Children have numerous opportunities to represent numbers up to 10 in various ways using different manipulative materials including counters, number shapes and beads.

Bar model

When children are familiar with the long rods, they are introduced to the number rods. The Number Rods are designed to introduce children to the concept of quantity and the relationship between numbers and their corresponding lengths. Children learn to associate each rod with a specific quantity . For example, the shortest rod represents the number 1, the next longest represents 2, and so on up to 10 typically painted in alternating red and blue colours. 

Handling and manipulating the rods help children develop a tactile understanding of number concepts. They can physically compare the lengths of the rods, helping them understand concepts like more than, less than, and equal to. 

The rods can also be used for early operations and arithmetic such as addition and subtraction where children physically combine rods to understand how numbers interact with each other.This provides indirect preparation for the bar model before children move onto the the addition and subtraction strip boards using the same principle using bars of different length to represent numbers.

Part Whole model

Children are also taught the part-whole model alongside the mathematical bar model to deepen their understanding of how numbers work. The part-whole model is a fundamental concept in mathematics that helps children grasp the relationship between a whole and its parts. It's often introduced to young learners as they start to explore basic arithmetic operations like addition and subtraction.

In the part-whole model, a whole is represented by a single entity, and its parts are the components that make up that whole. For instance, if we have a whole apple, we can divide it into parts, such as 2 halves or 4 quarters. Each part contributes to the whole. Children are also taught sentence stems to help internalise the concept that a whole number is made up of parts.

By integrating the part-whole model with the bar model, children can deepen their understanding of mathematical concepts and develop problem-solving skills. They learn to visualise relationships between wholes and parts, making it easier to tackle more complex mathematical problems as they progress in their learning journey.

Principles and pedagogy

All the activities and approaches we use support the principles that underpin our approach to teaching mathematics and include:

These principles influence what we teach and how we teach (pedagogy) our mixed age, mixed ability classes.

The Curriculum

We expect as many children as possible to meet or exceed national expectations and therefore we follow the National Curriculum.  Teachers plan sequences of lessons based on the National Curriculum and Early Years Framework and use White Rose as a framework to support progression to ensure lessons are sequenced coherently. The White Rose scheme of work is adapted to take into account our mixed age classes and ensures concepts are mapped out across the year to ensure teachers pay sufficient attention to all areas of the curriculum. 

This approach requires teachers to align the concepts and teach them at the same time with the whole class setting different learning challenges that take into account children's staring points.