Nurturing Early Number Sense in Early Childhood

a child playing with a wire bead toy
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Now, if you’ve been around me for more than a minute, you know I’m a literacy gal by nature, but a bunch of my kiddos have shown they’re ready to learn some number sense. I decided to focus on early numeracy this month and give them a little boost in the right direction.

What is number sense?

Early exposure to numeracy skills is like laying the foundation for a skyscraper of mathematical knowledge. It’s not just about counting to ten (although that’s a great start); it’s about helping small humans understand how numbers work and relate to their world.

Picture this: your group of kiddos counting out their toys, realising they have five colourful cars or three teddy bears, or, even more likely – “She has more than me!” This is the magic of building number sense in the early years – it’s not about dry equations and formulas; it’s about nurturing a deep and intuitive understanding of numbers.

In this 4 part series, we’re going to explore the concepts behind developing number sense in our young learners. Whether you’re an educator, a parent, or simply someone curious about the world of early maths education, you’re in for a treat!

We’ll delve into the building blocks of number sense, from subitising (recognizing numbers at a glance) to mastering counting skills and understanding how numbers relate to each other. We’ll also uncover the skill of problem-solving and explore how maths seamlessly weaves into our daily lives.

But here’s the best part – we’re going to do it all in a way that’s relaxed, playful, and approachable, just like sharing stories with our small friends. After all, learning is fun, and that’s a principle I hold dear in The Backyard.

So, grab a cuppa, find a comfy spot, and join me on this journey of nurturing number sense.

Part One – The Building Blocks of Number Sense

In the world of early childhood maths education, we’re not just teaching numbers; we’re nurturing a deep understanding of how numbers work and relate to the world around us. It all starts with the building blocks of number sense.

Counting Skills: Mastering the Counting Sequence

Before diving into more advanced maths concepts, children need to master the counting sequence. This means understanding that numbers follow a specific order: 1, 2, 3, 4, and so on. Counting aloud, singing counting songs, and counting everyday objects are fantastic ways to reinforce this skill.

But it’s not just about reciting numbers; it’s about connecting each number to a quantity. I have a few kiddos who say, “I can count to ten REAL FAST!” And when they show me, it’s the numbers alright, just all mushed together. When we actually try to count objects it’s a lot harder, because they have to think about it. But learning numbers by rote is a good place to start. It makes that part of counting a little more automatic, kind of like knowing the ABC song off by heart. Our goal though, is when a child says “3,” they should understand that it means three of something – like three apples or three fingers on their hand. This leads to number automaticity, which is when they can instantly recognise a numeral and just know how many it means.

Comparing and Ordering Numbers: Understanding Quantity Relationships

As our little learners progress in their maths journey, they begin to explore quantity relationships. They learn to compare numbers, understanding which is greater and which is smaller. This is the part when they KNOW their sibling has more than them! They also discover the art of ordering numbers, arranging them from smallest to largest and vice versa.

These skills help children grasp the idea of quantity and how numbers relate to each other. Simple games like “Which pile has more blocks?” or “Can you arrange these numbers from smallest to biggest?” make learning these concepts engaging and interactive.

number stepping stones to make learning numbers fun
Photo by Eric Tompkins on Unsplash

Estimation: Developing a Sense of Quantity

Estimation is like a playful guessing game with numbers. It encourages kids to make educated guesses about the quantity of objects without counting each one. For example, when looking at a jar filled with marbles, they might estimate, “Hmm, I think there are about 20 marbles in there.”

Estimation fosters a sense of quantity, and it’s a skill they’ll use throughout their lives. You can introduce estimation in everyday situations, like guessing how many grapes are in a bunch or how many books are on a shelf.

Subitising: Recognizing Numbers at a Glance

Subitising might sound like a complex term, but it’s a fundamental skill in number sense. It’s the ability to look at a small group of objects and instantly know how many are there, without counting one by one. Think of it as a superpower that helps small humans make quick estimates.

Imagine showing a child a group of four colourful blocks arranged on a table. They don’t need to count each block; they just know, “There are four!” This skill develops gradually and naturally as kids engage with various objects and activities.

In this journey of building number sense, subitising, mastering counting, comparing and ordering numbers, and developing estimation skills are like the stepping stones that lead to a solid foundation in maths. It’s about making numbers a natural part of their world, filled with wonder and curiosity.

a game of dominoes helps build number sense

Playing Games to grow number sense

I’ve been teaching my Pre-K crew card games to promote their number sense. We’ve been playing games like Snap and War together. We’ve also been working with an Under the Sea theme, so I made ocean creatures versions of the two games. My kiddos are loving them! Snap is great when younger kids want to join in, but the one they love most is War! Click the pictures to have a look at each game, and you can download the preview to take a closer look.

Remember, early number sense matters!

Next, we’ll dive deeper into developing number relationships, so stay tuned for the next post!

In the meantime, if you would like a quick bug-themed number sense freebie, you can find one below. It’s an activity about graphing our favourite bugs, and gives kids an idea of how numbers can be used in real life. Enjoy!

Keep reading the series HERE

Snag your Counting Bugs

Graphing Freebie here.

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    Annie rotunda

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