Numtums. Picture: Supplied

He's never been to WA or seen a real numbat but that didn't stop British producer Barry Quinn hitting upon the idea of using the WA animal emblem in an animated series making maths fun for pre-schoolers.

"We were looking at doing a show about numbers for the early years and an educational expert told us bright, cute characters were a good way to get kids interested," he said during an early morning call from Britain.

"A lot of animals were suggested but I remembered reading about numbats years ago and of course they have 'num' in their name.

"The more I researched them the more I fell in love with them. They are not really equipped for life in the 21st century. They are marsupials with no pouch, have lots of teeth but can't chew and eat 20,000 termites a day to survive. They are endangered and need all the help they can get."

So The Numtums - 10 colourful characters with numbers on their tummies - were born. The first series was aimed at toddlers but the second series has been revamped for an older age group and introduces slightly more complex mathematical concepts such as subtraction, shape recognition and numbers from 11 to 20.

Each episode sees the cute critters use their maths and number skills to tackle fun adventures in their hometown of Gumnut Gorge. There's comedy and catchy songs. Quinn hopes kids enjoy it, have a laugh and find it a painless way to absorb math skills.

"Once a child falls behind (in maths) it is hard to catch up," he says. "Shows like this can engage them from the start. If they enjoy something they will watch over and over again, and that repetition will help important concepts embed into their psyches. We work with an early childhood maths expert who looks closely at all the scripts.

"I was terrible at maths at school and had no enthusiasm for it. I've learnt a few things myself from this series, such as ordinal numbers meaning first, second and third.

"I think a lot of parents also have a bit of a fear of maths and numbers. This is another tool for them to help them help their children."

Games, colouring sheets and numeracy activity sheets related to the series will be available on the CBeebies Australia website.

In keeping with their origins, most of the Numtums have names with an Aussie flavour. "There are so many great place names in Australia. We had to go for ones that had never been used elsewhere. So, for example, we have Coogee, Flinders, Nimbin, Bendy Go, Hobart and Humpty Doo, which is particularly awesome."

The kids won't mind but parents won't be able to help noticing the Numtums are more likely to speak in a Yorkshire accent than an Aussie twang.

"We would have loved to have Australian accents," Quinn says. "But we use kids to voice the characters and we've noticed that even if kids come over to Britain with an Australian accent, within weeks they are talking in a broad London accent."

Quinn has recently discovered another WA favourite - quokkas. "I would love to have a quokka character in the show one day," he says. "From what I have read they really seem to enjoy life."

The West Australian

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