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The importance of literacy and numeracy in early childhood


Tommy Banks childminder with children in his care

Tommy Banks childminder with children in his care

Tommy Banks childminder with children in his care

What do we mean by Literacy and Numeracy relative to young children ?

We used to think of Literacy as the skill of reading and writing when children were 'ready' to learn. Today we understand that literacy 'emerges' gradually in the early years with the development of literacy in young babies who hear sounds, have them identified by sensitive caring adults, babbling and repeating sounds and rhymes and later sharing books, stories, TV or other communication technologies.

Listening, looking and talking about pictures and making marks on sand and on paper are all pre-literacy skills. Music and rhythm is part of all our lives and is a very important in the development of the pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills.

Numeracy is more than the ability to add, subtract, multiply, divide and use numbers. In early childhood, the development of numeracy involves babies hearing the language of mathematics in play by singing number rhymes (One, two, buckle my shoe ..) fitting 'smaller' boxes inside 'bigger' boxes, 'same', 'different', 'fast', 'slow', sorting, pouring, measuring, – these are some of the pre-numeracy skills which we encourage our children to develop.

Why are Early Literacy and Numeracy Important ?

Children who do not learn to read, write and communicate effectively at primary level are more likely to leave school early, be unemployed or in low-skilled jobs, have poorer emotional and physical health and are more likely to end up in poverty and in our prisons.

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Literacy difficulties are linked to truancy, exclusion, social consequences such as alcohol or drug abuse, increased health risks and greatly reduced life chances. The resultant impact on society is not just economic but also results in a negative effect on children's achievement of their full human potential.

Improved communication and oral language skills of very young children underpins their development of literacy and ability to develop early mathematical ideas and language.

As a component of basic education and a foundation for lifelong learning, literacy is the key to enhancing human capabilities and achieving many other rights. In short, literacy and numeracy carries wide-ranging benefits not only for individuals but also for families, communities and society.

References: French, G (2012) Early Literacy and Numeracy Matters: Enriching Literacy and Numeracy Experiences in Early Childhood. Dublin: Barnardos.