We use numbers to count items. They have evolved over centuries from marks in the sand and touching parts of the body to the symbols and digits we are familiar with today. Mathematicians even group numbers according to type (from natural to complex).

Prior Knowledge & Skills

One may assume that numbers are the beginning of numeracy and maths. However to understand and use numbers we need basic skills in reading and interpretation. We need to have some feeling for value.


Learning with numbers normally goes hand in hand with putting numbers together (number operations include adding and subtraction). Recognition of the meaning of number doesn't start and finish with counting, however it would be natural to see that one is a beginning. Working with decimals, we progress with an understanding of place value and parts of a whole (using the decimal point). Fractions and percentages are also numbers. Often we learn rules about numbers only to have to unlearn the rules later on when more abstract number representations are introduced (we don't add on a zero to multiply by ten and we can find the square root of a negative number). Although most use is made of decimal representation, certain disciplines, especially in computing use binary and hexadecimal representations.


Every day we use numbers to count, estimate, plan and negotiate. We use numbers to motivate and make sense of our world. We use numbers in mathematics to apply the theory into practice. Numbers allow us to measure and record everything. Numbers allow us to see patterns and create models of our world and universe.


Get an idea of number origins from this PowerPoint:

early years - numbers and counting

primary - there's more than just whole numbers

secondary - numbers come in all shapes and sizes