What is Numicon?

On the surface, Numicon is a leading primary school maths product that gives teachers the opportunity to create activities to serve EYFS, KS1, KS2 and bridging the gap to KS3.

It aids the use of imagery to support the understanding of a range of concepts within mathematics. Feeding seamlessly in to both popular Maths Mastery and Singapore-style Concrete-Pictorial-Abstract approaches – Numicon is a highly useful product to give to children in any classroom.

On its own or mixed with your own resources and plans, it’s easy to pick up and teach with – giving chance for learners of all levels the opportunity to understand maths in a simpler way.

In The National College for Teaching and Leadership’s (NCTL) ‘Closing the gap: test and learn programme’ report, Numicon was the only one (out of seven) education interventions that showed clear progress in attainment from controlled trials, showing a positive effect on maths achievement. 

The thinking behind the Numicon design

Some children have a natural gift for numbers, for others (the majority), it can be difficult to grasp.

Numicon is a product which has been developed by Oxford University Press (OUP) and is used nationwide in supporting maths teaching primarily throughout EYFS and KS1, with uses in KS2 and KS3 too.

As a physical object, it’s a collection of flat plastic shapes with holes in, with each shape representing a number from one to ten. To help the ‘Pictorial’ part of the Maths Mastery approach, each number has its own colour.

The mental impact of Numicon, is that children are hands-on with the numbers, being able to feel and see what they are learning fits in with the approach. Many schools find that providing a ‘Concrete’ object to show each number helps pupils maintain the understand the information. The multi-sensory approach has long been proven to improve learning.

How Numicon actually works

Simply, every Numicon ‘plate’ helps children to visualise what a number looks like. Seeing numbers next to each other helps them to compound the relationship between digits. Appealing to their sense of pattern, which has been developed through EYFS learning techniques, Numicon can lead children directly in to understanding how numbers work together.

There are four stages of typical progress that can be seen in children using Numicon:

  • Pattern – pairing / matching shapes and using the peg board to stack them
  • Ordering – smallest to largest, largest to smallest etc.
  • Counting – choosing various shapes to count how many holes they have, one by one
  • Early calculating – finding simple solutions e.g. adding a two-part shape to a four-part shape and understanding that it equals six

This journey can help lead to higher achievement in pupils, the physical pieces mixed with the mental test makes it easier for children to understand fully.

Using Numicon in Early Years (EYFS)

A perfect tool for EYFS learning, Numicon is a popular resource introduced at this level. Couple with playdough, sand and water, the young children can understand patterns and shapes to begin with.

Numbers are next, those important early counting skills can be introduced using the hole patterns on Numicon pieces, moving on to number lines and putting pieces in order is the next step of the journey.

More/less concepts will follow on from this, finding pieces that match can be a useful challenge to set for younger children.

Using Numicon in Key Stage 1 (KS1)

This is the time for children to begin finding out about tens and ones, adding and subtracting, more complex patterns and odd and even numbers.

You can introduce early geometry at this level too, symmetry, sharing and even weight – as Numicon pieces have their own weights, which add up to one another equally! E.g. three-piece + a one-piece weighs the same as a four-piece. It goes without saying in detail, Numicon is incredibly useful for times tables too.

Using Numicon in Key Stage 2 (KS2)

The confidence will begin to show through KS2, especially if children have worked with Numicon throughout their time at your nursery and school. There is still opportunity here to use it for the upper years of primary school, even with the introduction of more mental maths.

As children become more confident with numbers, they typically move away from using physical props to using pencil and paper and eventually to mental maths, but Numicon can still be used effectively in the upper years of primary school.

OUP also has created an extremely useful programme of study called Numicon Big Ideas, which consists of activities aimed specifically at KS2 and KS3 pupils who are struggling to meet the expected maths standard for their age.

Numicon for parents and extra learning

Often, parents can be introduced to Numicon as it’s such a simple tool to teach with. Children who wish to double up on their understanding of maths should be encouraged by their parents, with easy-access to resources and activities.

How are you using Numicon in your nursery or school? Join in the conversation by tweeting us or commenting on our Facebook page.

Our Favourite Numicon Resources

Take a look at our full range of Numicon resources and be inspired.