Getting started with Numicon for Early Years

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My name is Hayley, and I’ve been an Early Years educator for 11 years. I also became a teacher 2 years ago. I run the @allaboutearlyyears account on Instagram, where I share early educational activities.

I am continually amazed by the range of mathematical skills children are expected to learn so early in their lives. However, designing fun practical activities (which can easily be repeated) helps even young children to engage in independent learning.  

I first discovered Numicon 7 years ago when working in a nursery with children aged 2-3 years. I instantly fell in love with this resource because it was so easy to use and engaged the children in their learning straight away. Throughout my time in the education sector, I have come to realise just how versatile Numicon is.

Numicon is one of my top three educational resources because it can be used for such a wide range of mathematical activities and ages.   

What is Numicon?

Image of Numicon shapes in a random arrangement

Numicon is a physical resource, ideal for concrete-pictorial-abstract teaching and learning. Each shape represents a number from 1-10.  These pieces are perfect for tactile, multi-sensory, hands-on learning experiences.

Using Numicon regularly empowers children to become familiar with the shapes, recognising them visually and linking them to the representative number.

Numicon can support the Early Learning Goals and early mathematic teaching through:

  • Representing numbers
  • Counting
  • Pattern
  • Number ordering
  • Number matching to quantity
  • Early calculation
  • Doubling
  • 1 more & 1 less
  • Shape arrangements

How does this look in reality?

Here’s one activity you can do to promote counting and matching.

What you need:

  • Numicon shapes 1-10
  • Numicon number line
  • Excitement for learning (this is the most important bit!) 

Let’s begin

  • Lay out the number line on the table or floor.
  • Place the Numicon shapes 1-10 in a random arrangement next to the number line (the children could help with this).
Image of Numicon shapes in a random arrangement beneath a Numicon number line
  • Use the number line and encourage the children to count along it or recognise each numeral and shape.
  • Ask the children to match the Numicon pieces to the numerals.*
Image of Numicon shapes arranged in order beneath a Numicon number line

*If needed, the children could count the number of holes within the Numicon shape, and then match to the numeral.

Top tip: Each Numicon shape is a different colour, use this to your teaching advantage and offer a hint to the children, for example ‘What about a green piece?’ (this could represent either 4 or 8).

  • Once the children have matched all the Numicon shapes to the correct numeral ask them to self-assess by counting and checking that each shape is represented correctly. For example, ‘Number 3, let’s check how many holes this shape has, counting 1, 2, and 3’.

This activity helps children to see connections between numbers and shapes.

How can I extend this activity?

  • Discuss odd and even numbers and the differences between the shapes. For example, even numbers are cool colours and odd numbers are warm colours.
  • Introduce the concept of more than/less than by suggesting and commenting ‘I wonder what 1 more than 3 is. Let me look at the number next to it…’
  • Can more than one shape represent the same number? E.g. 2 and 2 together represent 4.
  • Continue the activity by completing the number line up to 10.
Image of Numicon shapes combined beneath a Numicon number line to make the numbers 3 and 4. 

Beneath the numeral 3 there is a Numicon 3 shape and also a Numicon 1 shape placed on top of a Numicon 2 shape to create a 3 shape.

Beneath the numeral 4 there is a Numicon 4 shape and also a Numicon 1 shape placed on top of a Numicon 3 shape to create a 4 shape, as well as two Numicon 2 shapes placed together to make a 4 shape.

Hayley Winter is an Early Years Teacher.

All the Numicon resources used in this activity are available in the Numicon Homework Activities Maths Bag.