What Is Numicon and Why is It Important?

The history of Numicon

An effective learning tool for helping children visualise numbers, Numicon works by using a multi-sensory approach. The nature of Numicon resources means that children can learn by seeing, feeling and understanding mathematical concepts through play.

The idea of Numicon originated from a school-based research project carried out by Ruth Atkinson, Romey Tacon and Dr Tony Wing. The project helped them understand that children had difficulties understanding abstract ideas without pictures to help them.

This idea later gave birth to the concept of the ‘Numicon Approach’. An invention that went on to become a valuable addition to the classroom. With the incorporation of Numicon, achievements in mathematics were raised and sustained over time as children progressed through the National Curriculum. This new approach to learning has grown through the years into a highly successful teaching resource and is now the market-leading UK primary school maths programme.

So what exactly is Numion?

Numicon is a mathematics teaching approach designed to help children understand maths. It is based on the popular and highly effective concrete-pictorial-abstract approach (CPA). This particular system of learning uses physical and visual aids to develop a deep and sustainable understanding of abstract topics, such as maths.

There are many Numicon resources however Numicon Shapes are one of, if not the most important part of Numicon. Made from plastic, each shape has a certain number of holes in it to represent the numbers 1 to 10 and each number has its own colour. Orange = 1, pale blue = 2, yellow = 3, pale green = 4, red = 5, turquoise = 6, pink = 7, purple = 9 and blue = 10. When arranged in order children will be able to easily see the connections between numbers, notice patterns and over time be able to make out more complex mathematical ideas.

The benefits of Numicon

Numicon is designed to develop a sound understanding of numbers, the relationship between numbers, digits and place value using structured apparatus. It helps children reason mathematically through the use of concrete objects and spoken language.

The physical representation of numbers using structured imagery plays to their strong sense of pattern – this very aspect of multi-sensory learning through play aids to facilitate the enjoyment of maths and make it engaging while helping children develop into confident problem solvers. This arithmetic way of teaching is perfect for youngsters in primary school, aged 4 to 7 years old and for older pupils with SEN. Additionally, children who are kinaesthetic learners (learn by doing and carrying out physical activities) would benefit from using Numicon in the classroom or at home.

How to use Numicon?

Numicon can be incorporated into learning and used to help understand a range of mathematical ideas:


The holes in each Numicon Shape represent the number of the shape. For example, Numicon 1 has one hole, Numicon 2, two holes etc. Children can count each hole one by one and compare the size of each shape. This should help them to understand the order the numbers go in.


You can practice putting the shapes in order from the smallest number to the largest, or vice versa. Numicon Shapes are a handy visual aid for counting and ordering, as you can see which number is “one more” than the previous number or “one less” than the next.


A variety of patterns can be created using apparatus. By creating and describing patterns, children can start to build on their number recognition and problem solve. For example sorting the shapes in a pattern of 2 holes, 4 holes, 2 holes, 4 holes etc. Using the Numicon Picture Baseboard and the overlay that comes with it, children can match the shapes to the pattern on the baseboard.

Number bonds and calculating

Numicon helps to illustrate number bonds, addition and subtraction, place value, doubling and halving, estimation, division and multiplication. Making it a fantastic tool for building core arithmetic skills and encouraging children to solve simple maths problems. For example, children can explore different ways to make 10 with the shapes, or use reasoning skills to determine how a Numicon 5 shape minus Numicon 1 equals 4.

Using Numicon in the classroom and at home

Numicon has a long history of being used within schools. Its success in helping children get to grips with foundational math skills has encouraged parents to use Numicon resources at home to facilitate learning and development. By extending learning beyond the classroom, children can reinforce their knowledge with an already familiar resource. 

For children to develop their number sense (innate ability to perceive, process, and understand numbers) and knowledge of skills like ordering, counting, adding, subtraction and so forth, they should be exposed to various interactions within their environment, e.g. at nursery, school or home. Exploring, investigating, manipulating, rearranging and comparing objects, in this case, Numicon will help them arrive at solutions to arithmetic and other maths problems. There are lots of interactive and engaging activities that can be performed using simple Numicon Shapes or the more extensive Firm Foundations Starter Pack and Teaching Guide

Whether you’re teaching maths at school or giving your little ones a helping hand at home with their homework, ensuring maths is fun and creative from an early age can have tremendous benefits and improve children’s abilities to understand mathematical concepts. We have a full range of Numicon resources and packs, including starter kits, Numicon Shapes and number lines that will fit perfectly in your setting and help your little learners understand maths.

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