October 1, 2023

Preschool quantity actions usually contain counting, however counting alone – naming numbers in the best order – isn’t sufficient. Youngsters additionally must develop “quantity sense,” an intuitive feeling for the precise quantity related to a given quantity. The place does quantity sense come from, and what can we do to verify children actually study the idea of quantity?

Turning a tea party into a preschool number activity: three soft toys - a fox, bird, and hedgehog, served with plates cups and treats
Picture by Parenting Science

Experiments recommend that even 6-month-old infants can inform the distinction between 4 cookies and eight. And 14-month-old infants appear to know that counting tells us one thing about amount (Wang and Feigenson 2019). In order that’s a begin. What’s wanted — as children become older — are hands-on experiences.

When ought to we start instructing kids about numbers?

It’s doable to start out as quickly as your youngster has developed the power to study a string of phrases, however it’s vital to know that the method is gradual.

For instance, in the USA, children usually start to follow verbal counting across the age of two. However they may want a lot of follow to keep away from making errors (corresponding to skipping a quantity, or getting the order incorrect). And these early learners don’t actually perceive the that means of quantity phrases.

When does this understanding lastly come collectively? It often takes a 12 months or two after they start collaborating in quantity actions. By means of repeated publicity and follow, they regularly study what actual portions are indicated by the phrases “one,” “two,” “three,” and “4.” Then – finally — they determine they will use counting to find out the numerosity of any set (Wynne 1990; LeCorre and Carey 2007; Carey and Barner 2019).

How can we assist children study numbers?

Analysis is fairly compelling on this level: Children profit once we actively train them – introduce them to the ideas and terminology, and provides them loads of alternatives to work with numbers.

The next evidence-based quantity actions encourage children to consider a number of key ideas, together with

  • The steady order precept (quantity phrases have to be recited in the identical order)
  • The precept of accelerating magnitudes (as we depend larger, the numbers characterize larger numerosities)
  • The one-to-one precept of numerosity (two units are equal if and provided that their objects might be positioned in excellent, one-to-one correspondence)
  • The one-to-one precept of object counting (every merchandise is to be counted is counted as soon as and solely as soon as)
  • The cardinal precept (the final phrase counted represents the numerosity of the set)

In addition they give kids follow naming numbers – recognizing the verbal labels, and connecting them with the proper, symbolic (Arabic) numerals.

As your youngster engages in these preschool quantity actions, take into account this recommendation (from my information to preschool math classes):

  • Begin small. It’s vital to regulate the sport to your youngster’s consideration span and developmental stage. For novices, this implies counting duties that concentrate on very small numbers (as much as 3 or 4).
  • Be sure it’s enjoyable. If it’s not playful and enjoyable, it’s time to cease.
  • Be affected person. It takes younger kids a few 12 months to learn the way the counting system works.

Proof-based preschool quantity actions

Your youngster’s first counting actions

As famous above, most children are prepared to start verbal counting by the age of two, and one traditional strategy is to recite collectively – in unison – for enjoyable.

However there are additionally methods to include counting into video games. For instance, researchers recommend that you could play “Disguise and Search,” the place gamers should study to attend for a depend earlier than starting a search. “One…two…three…right here I come!” (Levenson et al 2022). Different concepts for combining counting with play embody:

  • a dancing sport, the place gamers should freeze till somebody has completed a quick depend;
  • strolling up a stair case, whereas counting every step
  • transferring ahead in a room, or outdoor, whereas counting every step

Your youngster received’t essentially study what portions are related to every quantity. However they are going to be studying the steady order precept – that there’s an accurate sequence to comply with. And verbal counting will pave the way in which for deeper classes.

Image book-based actions for instructing children about utilizing counting to find out the quantity in a set

I discussed above that kids finally make a breakthrough of understanding: They understand that they will use counting to find out the precise amount of any set. For instance, for those who ask them to pick out precisely 6 toys from a field, they may be capable to do it. “Oh…I simply must hold accumulating toys till I’ve attain a depend of six.” They’ve found out the cardinal precept.

However this breakthrough doesn’t simply occur. Research recommend that it relies upon, partly, on kids first gaining a concrete feeling for the quantities specified by “one,” “two,” “three,” and “4,” and being proven how we are able to use counting to examine.  And a workforce of researchers – lead by Kelly Combine – have provide you with an attention-grabbing strategy that folks can use at dwelling when they’re studying to their preschoolers.

It really works like this. Suppose you’re studying a storybook together with your youngster, and also you come throughout three bears. Name consideration to the variety of bears you see, after which information your youngster by way of a depend of them. “Look, I see three bears! Are you able to say it with me? Three bears. Let’s depend: One, two, three.”

Subsequent, ask your youngster to repeat the method on his or her personal. “Now it’s your flip. What number of bears are there?”

Encourage your youngster to carry out each components of the quantity process – counting the bears once more, and labeling the overall quantity within the set. Right here’s the suggestions you’ll be able to present to verify this occurs:

  • In case your youngster merely says that there are three bears, however doesn’t depend them, say, “Proper! There are three bears. Are you able to depend them?”
  • In case your youngster accurately labels the overall variety of bears, however makes an error whereas counting, say “Proper! There are three bears, however watch: 1, 2, 3.”
  • In case your youngster counts the bears accurately, however fails to label the set, say: “Proper! 1, 2, 3…So, what number of are there?”

Kelley Combine and her colleagues examined this strategy in a randomized experiment on kids who have been 3 ½ years previous, together with some various strategies – like merely asking children to depend objects (e.g., “Let’s depend the bears!”) or just telling children about amount (“Look! This web page has three bears. Are you able to say it with me? Three bears…).

After 3 weeks of day by day coaching, the children who had been randomly assigned to the mix strategy (label first, then depend, and ask children to do the identical) made vital positive aspects of their skill to know and depend units bigger than 5. In actual fact, they have been the solely children who skilled vital enhancements. The researchers conclude that kids made progress in understanding the cardinal precept (Combine et al 2012).

Preschool quantity actions for instructing the one-to-one precept of numerosity

Matching objects one-to-one is a surprisingly vital mathematical idea. It’s how we show that two portions are equal. Two units include the identical variety of objects if the objects in every set might be matched, one-to-one, with no objects left over. Researchers name this the “one-to-one precept of numerosity,” and you’ll assist children grasp the idea with these easy, preschool quantity actions.

Free play utilizing “objects with slots”

Think about a muffin tin with 6 slots, and a set of balls that match inside – one ball per opening. If children play with one thing like this, will it assist them study to consider matching objects one-to-one?

Dr. Kelly Combine thought this would possibly work, so she examined it in a randomized experiment on 30 preschoolers (3-year-olds). Half the kids got “objects with slots” to play with (e.g., 6 balls and a 6-slot muffin tin). The remaining children got a double set of toys with out a container (e.g., 6 balls and 6 frog toys). The dad and mom have been informed to encourage children to play with the toys at dwelling, after which, 6 weeks later, the researchers examined kids to see if that they had improved their understanding of one-to-one matching. Children in each teams noticed enhancements, however those that performed with “objects with slots” made larger positive aspects total (Combine et al 2011).

Sport: Duplicate a set utilizing small tokens or counters 

Can your youngster assemble a set of two objects? Three objects? Extra? To play this quantity sport, arrange two, adjoining zones on a desk high or different flat floor (corresponding to the ground). You should utilize two placemats or ground mats to outline your areas. Alternatively, you can draw chalk boundaries round every zone (on a pavement), or mark the borders with colourful tape (on a carpet).

Subsequent, place a small variety of tokens in a single the zones, and ask your youngster to replenish the opposite zone with the identical variety of tokens. You may say one thing like, “Are you able to make one other set of tokens like this one? In order that it has the identical quantity?” After your youngster has made an try, depend the members of every set to see in the event that they match, and label the units as described within the earlier exercise (e.g., “1, 2, 3, 4, 5. There are 5 tokens!”)

For a variant of this sport, create a set of index playing cards, every card displaying a distinct variety of dots. Choose a card to problem your youngster with, and ask her or him to create an identical set of tokens. Comply with up in the identical means, asking your youngster to depend and label the set.

Using index cards for a preschool number activity - a card displaying five dots alongside a set of five poker chips
Picture by Parenting Science

Tip for beginning out: Start with very small numbers. It could actually take virtually a 12 months for a two- or three-year-old to actually perceive how the counting system works, so don’t be stunned if youthful kids have hassle counting past “1-2-3.” Assist your youngster with counting if wanted, and broaden set measurement regularly as your youngster’s expertise develop.

What must you use for tokens? For youngsters underneath the age of three years, it’s vital to decide on one thing that received’t pose a choking hazard. In line with the U.S. Shopper Product Security Fee, a ball-shaped object is unsafe for kids underneath 3 years if the merchandise is smaller than a 1.75″ diameter golf ball. Different objects are unsafe if they will match inside a tube with a diameter of 1.25″ inches. Items out of your toddler’s constructing block set would possibly do the job.

Additionally, attempt to use plain-looking tokens. You would possibly assume that little toy frogs or spiders would make counting extra enjoyable. However researchers have discovered that younger kids are likely to get distracted by these particulars. Children really study extra from math actions after they manipulate easier, extra summary objects (Petersen and McNeil 2012). Plastic chips — like these used for poker or bingo — are a good selection for kids aged 3 and up.

Sharing on the tea occasion: Dividing up tokens into equal parts

Right here is one other exercise to assist children follow one-to-one matching, impressed by the analysis of Brian Butterworth and his colleagues (2008).

Select three toy creatures to play the a part of occasion attendees, and have your youngster set the desk for them. Then give your youngster a set of “goodies” (tokens or actual edibles) to share with the occasion friends. The overall variety of goodies needs to be a a number of of three, so your youngster can distribute all of the objects equally and don’t have any leftovers.

In case your youngster makes a mistake and offers one creature too many tokens, you’ll be able to voice the a part of one of many different characters and complain. It’s also possible to take turns taking part in the function of the tea occasion host and intentionally make a mistake. Ask on your youngster’s assist. Did somebody get too many tokens? Or not sufficient? Have your youngster repair it.

Actions for instructing the precept of accelerating magnitudes

four cards, each displaying a different number of dots
Picture by Parenting Science

For these preschool quantity actions, use playing cards like these described the earlier part. You should utilize them in 3 ways.

Sport: Guess the best order

To play this sport, shuffle the playing cards, after which ask your youngster to position them, facet by facet, in a sequence of accelerating magnitude.

For youngsters who haven’t but discovered to depend, use playing cards that change by a considerable quantity, e.g., 3, 6, 10, and 15. For youngsters with rising counting expertise, use playing cards that differ by a single dot, and have children guess first, then examine their solutions by counting. 

What’s the purpose of all this guesswork? Experiments present that even infants can spot variations this massive, and working towards these duties might assist kids hone their estimation skills — skills that are important for future arithmetic achievement.

For instance, in a single research, researchers examined five-year-olds with computer-based variations of those preschool quantity actions. The youngsters weren’t given sufficient time to depend; they merely took a fast look and answered primarily based on their intuitive, visible impression. Children who practiced making progressively harder discriminations — getting correct suggestions after every try — skilled subsequent enhancements of their skill to resolve issues utilizing symbolic numbers (Wang et al 2016).

Sport: Guess which card has extra dots?

To play this sport, choose two playing cards, every displaying a distinct variety of dots, and present them to your youngster. Which card has extra dots?

Ensure you begin with playing cards that differ by a ratio of no less than  2:1. As an illustration, attempt 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 4, and a pair of vs. 5. It’s also possible to attempt bigger numbers, like 6 vs. 12.

As your youngster will get follow with these easy-to-discriminate variations, you’ll be able to current her with more and more tough selections (like 6 versus 8; and even 9 versus 10).

For a extra playful variant of the sport, you need to use tokens as a substitute of playing cards, and fake they’re one thing enjoyable, like muffins. Dole out completely different quantities between you and ask, “Who has extra?” You should definitely give your youngster suggestions concerning the appropriate reply.

And as children turn into extra skillful, you need to use your playing cards in a aggressive sport known as, “Quantity Battle” (Scalise et al 2017). See my article, “DIY Preschool math video games that assist children develop ‘quantity sense’” for a full description of the foundations.

Sport: Massive guys eat extra

To play, use your playing cards, in addition to three animal toys or dolls of various measurement — small, medium, and enormous. Faux the toys are occasion friends, and the objects on the playing cards are treats. Subsequent:

  1. Line up the three toys so as of measurement.
  2. Current your youngster with three playing cards, every card depicting a distinct variety of dots.
  3. Ask your youngster to offer the best variety of treats to the most important toy, the second-greatest quantity to the second-largest toy, and the smallest quantity to the smallest toy.

After your youngster has distributed the goodies, present nice, encouraging suggestions.  “That’s proper!” (for an accurate response), and “That’s not proper…are you able to attempt once more?” (for an incorrect response).

In case you want, you’ll be able to play the sport with tokens as a substitute of playing cards. And as soon as your youngster has began to learn and perceive quantity symbols, you need to use playing cards that show solely Arabic numerals. This may assist children follow quantity recognition.

When researchers examined comparable preschool quantity actions, they discovered that each dot-based and numeral-based video games helped kids develop higher intuitions about amount. However children who performed the Arabic numeral model of the sport skilled larger development in primary arithmetic expertise (Honoré and Noël 2016).

Three teddy bears (small, medium, and large) seated near three sacks of goodies, with each sack contraining a different number o items.
Picture of preschool quantity actions from research by Honoré and Noël, see full credit score under

Faux play actions for instructing children about quantity symbols

What else can we do to foster studying about quantity symbols – just like the Arabic numeral “3”? Of their overview of instructional math video games for preschoolers, Julie Sarama and Douglas Clement (2009) remind us that even unstructured, fake play can flip into quantity recognition actions.

As an instance, they cite an instance of two preschoolers engaged in fantasy role-playing a few “Dinosaur Store.” One participant acted because the store keeper (providing toy dinosaurs on the market). The opposite participant, the shopper, had cash (a deck of playing cards, with every displaying a distinct, Arabic numeral, a corresponding variety of dots). The shopper would buy quite a few dinosaurs by handing over a card: Give the store keeper a card with the quantity “5” on it, and it’s best to obtain 5 dinosaur toys in return. Then gamers may depend to verify an correct transaction.

So video games of shopping for and promoting might assist kids study quantity symbols. And so, too, would possibly these role-playing video games:

  • Making pizzas. Utilizing cardboard disks and paper toppings, ask your pizza chef to make pizzas to order: Give the chef a quantity card, and have the chef create a pizza with the corresponding variety of toppings. When the pizza is completed, the chef and buyer can examine for accuracy by counting the toppings and evaluating this with the numeral on the cardboard (Clements and Sarama 2009).
  • Delivering the Mail. Arrange a “avenue” with a sequence of various “properties” arrayed alongside it. Mark every dwelling with a “resident” (a toy or doll), in addition to a quantity card displaying the specified handle. Be sure the addresses are lined up in numerical order (1, 2, 3…). Then ask your youngster to ship the “mail” – letters and packages marked with the specified addresses.

A puppet sport for instructing the one-to-one precept of counting objects, and the precept of cardinality

Right here’s one other “one-to-one” precept — this time the one-to-one precept of counting objects. Children must study that every merchandise in a sequence is counted as soon as and solely as soon as. In addition they must study the precept of cardinality, the concept the final phrase in our depend represents the numerosity of a set.

Youngsters study these concepts by way of follow. However they could additionally study by correcting others who make errors. In a single research, researchers requested preschoolers to look at–and assist–an incompetent puppet depend a set of objects (Gelman et al 1986). The puppet would often violate the one-to-one precept by double-counting (e.g., “one, two, three, three, 4…). He additionally generally skipped an object or repeated the incorrect cardinal worth.

Cow puppet looking at a set of poker chips
Picture by Parenting Science

Children ranging in age from 3 to five have been fairly good at detecting these violations. So your youngster may need enjoyable correcting your personal goofball at dwelling.

What in case your youngster doesn’t discover an error? Right the puppet your self. And both means, ask your youngster to clarify what went incorrect. In one other, comparable research, researchers discovered that preschoolers didn’t make conceptual progress except they have been requested to clarify the puppet’s errors (Muldoon et al 2007). For a dialogue of how self-explanation could make preschool quantity actions and different instructional experiences extra beneficial, see this Parenting Science overview of the proof.

One other puppet-based sport that may assist preschoolers develop intuitions about addition and subtraction

Younger kids have an extended technique to go earlier than they’re able to carry out primary arithmetic calculations like “2 +3 = 5,” or “7 – 3 = 4.” However we would be capable to construct their intuitions about addition and subtraction by asking the best questions. A technique to do that is by taking part in a sport.

You start by pretending that somebody (a puppet or toy character) has baked some “muffins” (a set of tokens). Ask your youngster to depend the muffins (serving to your youngster with this if wanted).  

Subsequent, have the puppet bake another cake and add it to the set. Are there extra muffins or fewer muffins now? Ask your youngster, and supply her or him with appropriate suggestions afterwards.

You may attempt the identical factor with subtraction by having the puppet “eat” a cake. And range the sport by including or subtracting different small quantities, like two or three.

Ought to we anticipate kids to provide you with correct solutions? Not crucial — particularly not if they’re underneath the age of three years (Izard et al 2014). However the expertise of predicting and checking is efficacious, and even when children get the exact quantity incorrect, they do a great job developing with cheap guesses. When researchers requested 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds to carry out these duties, they discovered that 90% of the guesses have been in the best course (Zur and Gelman 2004).

Board video games that train preschoolers concerning the quantity line

As your youngster begins to grasp the primary few quantity phrases, you can too check out this DIY board sport for instructing preschoolers concerning the quantity line. Together with full directions for creating this sport — a sport examined by researchers — additionally, you will discover a dialogue of whether or not children can profit from taking part in the standard sport, Chutes and Ladders.

References: Preschool quantity actions

Butterworth B, Reeve R, and Lloyd D. 2008. Numerical thought with and with out phrases: Proof from indigenous Australian kids. Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences 105(35): 13179-13184.

Carey S and Barner D. 2019. Ontogenetic Origins of Human Integer Representations. Traits Cogn Sci. 23(10):823-835.

Clements DH and Sarama J. 2009. Studying trajectories in early arithmetic—sequences of acquisition and instructing. Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Improvement (pp. 1–7). London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Analysis Community.

Gelman R and Gallistel C. 1978. The kid’s understanding of quantity. Harvard College Press.

Gelman R, Meck E, and Merkin S. 1986. Younger kids’s numerical competence. Cognitive Improvement 1(1): 1-29.

Honoré N and Noël MP. 2016. Bettering Preschoolers’ Arithmetic by way of Quantity Magnitude Coaching: The Influence of Non-Symbolic and Symbolic Coaching. PLoS One. 11(11):e0166685.

Izard V, Streri A, Spelke ES. 2014. Towards actual quantity: younger kids use one-to-one correspondence to measure set identification however not numerical equality. Cogn Psychol. 72:27-53.

Le Corre M and Carey S. 2007. One, two, three, 4, nothing extra: An investigation of the conceptual sources of the verbal counting rules. Cognition.  105:395–438. 

Levenson ES, Barkai R, Tirosh D, Tsamir P. 2022. Exploring adults’ consciousness of and options for early childhood numerical actions. Educ Stud Math. 109(1):5-21.

Combine KS, Moore JA, and Holcomb E. 2011. One-to-one play promotes numerical equivalence ideas. Journal of Cognition and Improvement 12(4): 463-480.

Combine KS, Sandhofer CM, Moore JA, and Russell C. 2012. Acquisition of the cardinal phrase precept: The function of enter. Early Childhood Analysis Quarterly 27(2): 274–283. 

Muldoon KP, Lewis C, Francis B. 2007. Utilizing cardinality to examine portions: the function of social-cognitive battle in early numeracy. Developmental Psychology 10(5):694-711.

Park J and Brannon EM. 2013. Coaching the Approximate Quantity System Improves Math Proficiency. Psychol Sci. 2013 Oct;24(10):2013-9.

Petersen LA and McNeil NM. 2013. Results of Perceptually Wealthy Manipulatives on Preschoolers’ Counting Efficiency: Established Information Counts. Little one Dev. 84(3):1020-33.

Sarama J and Clements DH. 2009. Constructing Blocks and Cognitive Constructing Blocks: Taking part in to Know the World Mathematically. American Journal of Play. 1: 313-337.

Scalise NR, Daubert EN, Ramani GB. 2017.  Narrowing the Early Arithmetic Hole: A Play-Primarily based Intervention to Promote Low-Earnings Preschoolers’ Quantity Abilities. J Numer Cogn. 3(3):559-581.

Wang JJ and Feigenson 2019.  Infants acknowledge counting as numerically related. Developmental Science 22(6): e12805.

Wang JJ, Odic D, Halberda J, Feigenson L. 2016. Changing the precision of preschoolers’ approximate number system representations changes their symbolic math performance. J Exp Little one Psychol. 147:82-99.

Wynn Ok. 1990. Youngsters’s understanding of counting. Cognition. 36(2):155-93.

Zur O and Gelman R. 2004. Younger kids can add and subtract by predicting and checking. Early childhood Analysis Quarterly 19: 121-137.

Content material of “Preschool quantity actions” final modified 3/2023. Parts of the textual content derived from an earlier model of the article, written by the identical creator.

Picture credit for “Preschool quantity actions”

title picture of toys with plates and cups copyright Parenting Science

photos of provides for preschool quantity actions copyright Parenting Science

experimental picture of bears and luggage from: Honoré N and Noël MP. 2016. Bettering Preschoolers’ Arithmetic by way of Quantity Magnitude Coaching: The Influence of Non-Symbolic and Symbolic Coaching. PLoS One. 11(11):e0166685. Picture seems right here courtesy Creative Commons Attribution License

picture of puppet copyright Parenting Science