Number sense is a feeling for numbers, an awareness about numbers and knowledge of their value. It is acquired through everyday life experiences in and around the home and is augmented through specific hands-on experiences in the preschool classroom.
Developing number sense is a personal experience for a child and not a theoretical one. The more we can fascinate a child with numbers early on, in a fun way, the stronger their understanding and deeper their mathematical foundations will be for later mathematical literacy that becomes more abstract.
Everyday number sense activities parents can do with their children
For learning to have meaning for young children it needs to be tactile. Make sure you encourage your child to play with real objects that they can see, touch and feel. This is concrete learning and because children are multi-sensory learners, it helps them to make sense of concepts far more easily if they can touch them as they count.
Start with the body
- From babyhood count their fingers and toes aloud touching them as you go. As they get older ask them how many eyes, ears, noses, mouths, fingers and toes they have. This is a process of investigation.
Unpacking the groceries
- Get your child to count how many bananas, apples, tomatoes etc were in each packet. Get them to share or divide the packet up so that three or four people would get the same number of apples each, for example.
Setting the table
- For a family of four a child must work out how many knives, forks and spoons are required and them put the in the correct position. For a five year old, you can set one place and they can then copy what you have done with some encouragement from you.
Cutting toast – the precursor to fractions
- Cutting toast into halves and quarters is probably one of the earliest introductions your child will have to fractions. Toast soldiers for dipping in boiled eggs are also fun for counting.
A mini box of Smarties or packet of Jelly Tots
- Count all the Smarties or Jelly Tots. Then sort them in to colour groups and count how many are in each one.
Your purse or wallet
- Give your child all your coins to sort out and then count up. Money is a concrete activity. With R2 or R5 coins they can count in twos or fives.
Play card games
- The classic card game, UNO is great for reinforcing number concepts. And don’t forget Rummy with a traditional deck of cards. Card games promote critical thinking and problem solving and are a good exercise for visual memory remembering what cards have or have not been played.
Play word number games in the car
- Shout out two numbers such as 5 and 7 and ask your child for the number in between or the number before or after another number such as 8.
- When driving along a street, get your child to call out the numbers of the houses. Also point out the odd and even numbers of the houses.
In the car
- Count telephone poles, street lamps, white cars, trucks etc.
Play measuring and estimation games
- Teach your children to estimate time, measurement, weight and distance at an early age in real life situations. How far is a meter? How many kilometers is it to the petrol station? How many bottles of cold drink will we need for your party? Will we have enough petrol to get to our destination? If you have more than one child see whose guess is the closest. Kids love a little competition.
Develop your child’s mathematical vocabulary
As you interact with your child around numbers, ensure that you use mathematical words in your conversations such as:
- less than, more, many, above, on top, below, underneath, left, right, in between, behind, in front of, next to, nothing, full, empty, heavy, light, long, short, tall, more than, less than, equals, equal to, etc.
Developing number sense in young children should be fun and co-incidental and is acquired mostly through the social interaction with the parent and later a preschool teacher. Parents need to help their children learn about number and quantity through little every day life experiences and interactions with their environment. In this way they can create the foundation for abstract mathematical concepts and levels of counting that will come later on. Note that none of the activities above actually required the writing down of a number.
For more information about my Parenting on the Run workshop that teaches parents how to pass on useful learning lessons to their children even on the busiest of days, click here. For ideas of how to be creative with helping your child develop school readiness skills around the home, book a Beyond the Nappy Bag workshop for your group. 20 people minimum.
For more information about early learning, read my book Future-proof Your Child.