In Scoil Cholmáin we use Numicon to support our teaching of maths in the junior classrooms and in learning support. It is a highly effective teaching tool, used by educators all around the world to support children's maths and numeracy development.


What is Numicon?

Numicon is a system of flat plastic shapes with holes in them. Each shape represents a number from one to 10 and each number has its own colour.

Numicon can be used across all infant and primary age groups. Its’ approach to teaching maths helps children visualise numbers in terms of size and quantity.

It's a multi-sensory way of learning, which means children learn by seeing and feeling. This is great for kinaesthetic learners – children who learn by doing.

The colourful Numicon Shapes are key to the Numicon programme. The holes in the shapes represent the numbers 1 to 10. The shapes are arranged in a shape that makes understanding odd and even numbers easy. Also as illustrated below, the shape make it simple for children to identify ‘one more’ or ‘one less’ or numbers greater than/less than.

Later on in their education, children will be able to use Numicon to see more complex mathematical ideas, like how two lots of four make eight, three lots of two make six, and so on.

Numicon can therefore lay the foundation for their understanding of numbers all the way through school.

Numicon can also be used flexibly alongside existing resources and maths programmes and, it's great for helping teachers to assess a child’s understanding and progress by watching and listening to what they do and say.

Using Numicon in the infant rooms can also help to avoid maths anxiety. Learning about numbers for the first time can be challenging for children. Lots of children struggle to understand the concept of numbers to begin with. This is often because of their abstract quality. Children can struggle to make the connection between, say, the number 8, and the physical quantity that the number represents. This difficulty can lead children to becoming nervous about numbers, but Numicon Shapes can be the perfect maths apparatus to help children overcome this stumbling block.

Numicon Shapes are designed to help children to communicate mathematically by being active, illustrating and talking. It helps children to reason mathematically, using spoken language alongside concrete and pictorial representations to explain and justify their thinking. This method of teaching and learning is known as the Concrete – Pictorial – Abstract approach, or CPA.

The Concrete – Pictorial – Abstract approach develops children's understanding of numbers by introducing numbers and concepts in a concrete and tangible way. It then moves onto representation using pictures before finally using written form.


How does a Numicon number line work?

Numicon number lines show children that each number has a different value but can be made up from smaller numbers by adding them to make a new total (number bonds).


Recent studies about Numicon for beginners:

A recent study has indicated that Numicon shapes make highly effective teaching tools relied upon by many experienced teachers. The study found that a large majority of teachers (91%) believed that Numicon 'had a positive impact on children’s mathematical learning.' In particular, it was found that teachers perceived that using Numicon had a particularly positive impact on children's problem-solving and reasoning skills. These are really great outcomes that show the advantages that Numicon can have in your classroom or learning environment.


What can Numicon be used to teach?

Using Numicon in maths lessons with infant and primary children can help to teach a variety of topics in an interactive and multisensory way.

Here are just a few topics Numicon is often used to teach:

  • Patterns –You can use the different shapes, colours and numbers to create a wide variety of patterns to demonstrate to children, or even challenge them to create their own.


  • Ordering –Numicon shapes can be used to demonstrate putting items in a sequence, such as from biggest to smallest or by numeric value.


  • Counting –By counting the holes in each shape and comparing their sizes children can begin to understand the order that numbers should go in.


  • Early Calculating –Numicon shapes are great for practising simple addition and subtraction sums. Using the shapes that represent each number in the sum you can add and take away as and when needed and allow children to count at their own pace.


By giving children something physical – rather than just paper and a pencil – they develop confidence and a greater understanding of the concepts that they are being introduced to. Numicon helps to raise achievement across all ability levels.

Better yet, Numicon is great to use at home with your child. It can be used to support their learning or as an educational toy for them to play with.


Using Numicon with infant children:

It is often beneficial to introduce children to Numicon in Junior Infants, even if they haven't developed an understanding of number yet. Children may use the shapes to build with, or they could be incorporated into their play. This will get them used to using them regularly, so that they are familiar with how Numicon work and what they look like. As they become more familiar with the pieces, children will naturally start to call them by their number name.

This helps them to connect the dots between the symbol of the number, the spelling of the number, and the meaning of the number.

As children's understanding of numbers progress, they could use Numicon with number line activities, by placing the shapes on the correct places on the line. The varying shapes can also help you to explain that some numbers are more or less than others. Children can easily see that some of the Numicon shapes are larger or smaller than other shapes.


Using Numicon Maths with primary children:

As children get older, Numicon can be used to help explore and explain slightly more advanced topics such as:

  • Number order;
  • Place value;
  • Patterns;
  • Number bonds to 10;
  • Addition and subtraction;
  • Odd and even numbers.


More complex ideas that Numicon can be used to demonstrate include geometric shapes and symmetry. You can use the Numicon shapes to create patterns to show children and see if they can identify whether it is symmetrical or asymmetrical.


Numicon can also be effective when children begin to learn times tables. Numicon shapes can be used to help children visualise the times tables, understand the patterns that occur in them, and make them seem a little less daunting.



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