Learning about numbers is more than just counting. By the end of the first school year, not only do children need to be able to count, but also be able to recognise numbers, count each item, and write the numbers. Each of these requires a different set of skills. To prepare your child and give him an advantage, you can start teaching him these concepts in a fun and playful way.
1. Rote Counting
To say numbers in sequence is to rote count. Most children can do this easily through listening repeatedly to others saying it. It is mainly learnt through memorisation. This is the most basic form of number knowledge, yet it doesn’t mean that your child will have an understanding of numbers, rather it will help your child later with counting 1 to 1 correspondence.
The easiest way to teach this is through counting rhymes such as “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, Once I Caught a Fish Alive” and “Ten Little Fingers”. You can also clap each number as you say it with your child. Children like movement, so think of different movements that your child can do with each number, such as jump, stomp and slap knees.
Children also like to use a novelty pointer stick to point to the numbers on a number chart as they say each number in sequence. At this early stage, most children won’t recognise the numbers, so they’ll randomly point to any number, but once they do recognise, they will point to the correct number.
2. Recognising Numbers
Recognising numbers from one to ten depends on visual memory. Children have to remember to associate a symbol with its sound. At this stage some children won’t have a sense of numbers. They’re still learning to associate by memory. It’s not until they manipulate and play with amounts, that they begin to understand what each number means.
Use flashcards to help your child learn to recognise numbers. Do one number at a time and play games with the flashcards. You can get two sets and play Snap or Concentration. When your child has found a match ask what number it is.
Wooden peg puzzles are great for recognising numbers as it forces your child to look at the shapes of each number, but remember to say what each number is as your child slots it into place. Your child needs to hear the sound that goes with the number.
Do a number search everywhere you go – when you’re walking down the street, look at house numbers, and when you’re reading a book, look at the page numbers. Other activities include playing with play dough numbers, painting with number sponges, and making a collage using number stickers.
Subitising is when children can instantly recognise a group of items without counting, such as the dots on a dice or domino. It helps your child to have a sense of numbers and later on, other mathematical skills. The way to learn subitising is through daily encounters with groups. First start with small groups of less than five, then build their way up to ten.
I teach children to recognise finger patterns as they learn to recognise the numbers, so when they are learning the number one, they also learn the number one finger pattern (which is the index finger not the thumb), and when they learn the number two, they learn the number two finger pattern (which is the index finger and the middle finger), and so on. What you’ll find, is that one to five is easier to immediately recognise, than six to nine (ten is also easy because it only has two hands).
As a side note, when your child can recognise the finger pattern for number seven, as an example, (which is five fingers on one hand and two fingers on the other hand), she’ll realise that seven is five and two. You can see how this is helpful to her understanding of addition, ten facts and subtraction (she’ll see that 3 more fingers are needed to make ten).
Another activity to teach subitising is to use the dice and dominoes to play games. You can use blocks and an abacus to make groups.
4. Counting 1 to 1
Counting with one to one correspondence, means to match one counting number with one item in a group as you count. It is when you assign a number to an item as you say the number sequence. If your child randomly points to items without synchronising it by saying a number, then he has not learnt to count with one to one correspondence.
The only way to learn this is to practice. Your child needs to slow down his counting to match and point, or touch each item as he says a number in the sequence. A common mistake is, when children point to the first item and their finger hasn’t moved off that first item, but they’ve already counted up to three. Have your child count different things such as, people, cars, toys, books, spoons and shoes. Use blocks, beads, an abacus and counters to count more.
5. Writing Numbers
Writing numbers is a skill that develops with fine motor control and the ability to grasp the pencil with a pincer grip. It also relies on memory of what the number looks like and the way it is formed. Start first by tracing numbers to help your child develop control of a pencil. Once your child can do this then show her how the numbers are formed. Do them one at a time so as not to confuse her.
The numbers one, four, seven, eight, nine and ten are easiest to write because they contain only lines and/or circles. Whereas the numbers two, three, five and six are harder for children, because semi-circles that go in one direction and change, seem to be more difficult to draw.
Provide different tools for your child to use and write on. Tools such as pencils, markers, glitter and gel pens, chalk, paints and crayons, make it exciting. Different coloured and textured papers, whiteboard, pavement and books will give your child variety and make it fun to write on.
As with all the skills listed here, the more your children practices writing numbers, the better they’ll be at numbers, so keep up the great work moms!