Developing numeracy skills through play

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Play is important for developing children’s mathematical abilities and spatial awareness. Piaget suggested that children can develop the ability to conserve through discovery play. For example, when children play with water, they begin to understand that if they pour water from a wide beaker into a long thin beaker, there is still the same amount of water there and when they roll out a ball of playdough into a pancake and then screw it up again, there is the still the same amount of playdough there. Piaget believed the ability to conserve number and volume develops at around 7-years-old.


Parents of young children can also develop  numeracy skills through play. They can develop their children’s number sense through talking to them about numbers, money and quantities in everyday life and in play. For example, young children can be encouraged to use scales to understand weight or you can buy games such as ‘The wobbly chef’, which enable children to think about balancing objects. Playing games with numbers such as snakes and ladders gets children to think about the differences between big and small numbers. Even everyday situations can be used to develop an understanding of numbers. Counting sweets out helps children to understand less and more and can lead to an understanding of addition and subtraction. At a higher level, a sandwich can be divided into half and then quarters to develop the concept of fractions. Older children can be encouraged to count their pocket money to work out how much they have to save to buy a certain toy.


Construction toys such as Lego and Megablocks can improve mathematical skills and spatial skills. For example, one study found that children who use toy blocks to construct complex structures at 4-years-old achieved higher scores in mathematics at secondary school (Wolfgang et al., 2001). Parents can build towers with their child and ask them what happens if we put a large block on top of a small block? They can also use the blocks to build castles or ships and incorporate this into pretend play.


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Should gifted children be accelerated at school?

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Should gifted children be accelerated?

The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children. However, research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.

Potential Plus, a UK charity which helps families with children with high learning potential, endorses the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.

Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4- to 5-years-old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3- to 4-years-old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. In contrast, a level 1 gifted child, although very able, does not have the same advanced abilities. A level 1 gifted child is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). Therefore, it may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.


The research suggests that even very young children should be accelerated. A parent needs to consider their child’s abilities as a whole before making the decision whether to accelerate them or not. If your child is highly gifted and does not fit in with his peers socially then the best decision would be to accelerate them. However, if your child is moderately gifted and finds it easy to interact with peers then a decision about acceleration could be delayed. Young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted and they may become more anxious if they have too much pressure from parents. Children can be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.



However, gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may not be picked for school sports teams.

Gifted children can also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics and it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to be particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.


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