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Preschool quantity actions


Preschool quantity actions usually contain counting, however counting alone – naming numbers in the correct 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 ensure youngsters actually be taught 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 youngsters become old — are hands-on experiences.

When ought to we start educating youngsters about numbers?

It’s potential to start out as quickly as your little one has developed the power to be taught a string of phrases, but it surely’s vital to know that the method is gradual.

For instance, in america, youngsters usually start to follow verbal counting across the age of two. However they are going to want a number of follow to keep away from making errors (akin to skipping a quantity, or getting the order fallacious). And these early learners don’t actually perceive the which means of quantity phrases.

When does this understanding lastly come collectively? It normally takes a yr or two after they start taking part in quantity actions. By way of repeated publicity and follow, they steadily be taught what precise portions are indicated by the phrases “one,” “two,” “three,” and “4.” Then – ultimately — they work out 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 youngsters study numbers?

Analysis is fairly compelling on this level: Children profit after we actively educate 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 youngsters to consider a number of key ideas, together with

  • The secure order precept (quantity phrases have to be recited in the identical order)
  • The precept of accelerating magnitudes (as we depend larger, the numbers characterize better numerosities)
  • The one-to-one precept of numerosity (two units are equal if and provided that their objects will 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 youngsters follow naming numbers – recognizing the verbal labels, and connecting them with the right, symbolic (Arabic) numerals.

As your little one engages in these preschool quantity actions, take note this recommendation (from my information to preschool math classes):

  • Begin small. It’s vital to regulate the sport to your little one’s consideration span and developmental degree. For learners, this implies counting duties that target very small numbers (as much as 3 or 4).
  • Ensure it’s enjoyable. If it’s not playful and enjoyable, it’s time to cease.
  • Be affected person. It takes younger youngsters a couple of yr to learn the way the counting system works.

Proof-based preschool quantity actions


Your little one’s first counting actions

As famous above, most youngsters are prepared to start verbal counting by the age of two, and one traditional method 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 may play “Conceal and Search,” the place gamers should be taught 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 embrace:

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

Your little one gained’t essentially be taught what portions are related to every quantity. However they are going to be studying the secure order precept – that there’s an accurate sequence to observe. And verbal counting will pave the best way for deeper classes.

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

I discussed above that youngsters ultimately make a breakthrough of understanding: They understand that they will use counting to find out the precise amount of any set. For instance, if you happen to ask them to pick out precisely 6 toys from a field, they are going to be capable of do it. “Oh…I simply must preserve amassing 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, partially, on youngsters first gaining a concrete feeling for the quantities specified by “one,” “two,” “three,” and “4,” and being proven how we will use counting to verify.  And a workforce of researchers – lead by Kelly Combine – have provide you with an fascinating method that oldsters can use at house when they’re studying to their preschoolers.

It really works like this. Suppose you might be studying a storybook together with your little one, and also you come throughout three bears. Name consideration to the variety of bears you see, after which information your little one 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 little one to repeat the method on his or her personal. “Now it’s your flip. What number of bears are there?”

Encourage your little one to carry out each elements of the quantity activity – counting the bears once more, and labeling the overall quantity within the set. Right here’s the suggestions you may present to ensure this occurs:

  • In case your little one 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 little one 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 little one 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 method in a randomized experiment on youngsters who had been 3 ½ years previous, together with some different strategies – like merely asking youngsters to depend objects (e.g., “Let’s depend the bears!”) or just telling youngsters 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 youngsters who had been randomly assigned to the mix method (label first, then depend, and ask youngsters to do the identical) made important positive factors of their capability to grasp and depend units bigger than 5. The truth is, they had been the solely youngsters who skilled important enhancements. The researchers conclude that youngsters made progress in understanding the cardinal precept (Combine et al 2012).

Preschool quantity actions for educating 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 comprise the identical variety of objects if the objects in every set will be matched, one-to-one, with no objects left over. Researchers name this the “one-to-one precept of numerosity,” and you may assist youngsters 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 youngsters play with one thing like this, will it assist them be taught 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 youngsters got “objects with slots” to play with (e.g., 6 balls and a 6-slot muffin tin). The remaining youngsters got a double set of toys with no container (e.g., 6 balls and 6 frog toys). The mother and father had been instructed to encourage youngsters to play with the toys at house, after which, 6 weeks later, the researchers examined youngsters 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 factors total (Combine et al 2011).

Recreation: Duplicate a set utilizing small tokens or counters 

Can your little one assemble a set of two objects? Three objects? Extra? To play this quantity recreation, arrange two, adjoining zones on a desk prime or different flat floor (akin to the ground). You should use two placemats or ground mats to outline your areas. Alternatively, you would 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 little one to replenish the opposite zone with the identical variety of tokens. You’ll be able to 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 little one 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 recreation, create a set of index playing cards, every card displaying a special variety of dots. Choose a card to problem your little one with, and ask her or him to create an identical set of tokens. Comply with up in the identical manner, asking your little one 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 possibly take nearly a yr for a two- or three-year-old to actually perceive how the counting system works, so don’t be stunned if youthful youngsters have hassle counting past “1-2-3.” Assist your little one with counting if wanted, and develop set dimension steadily as your little one’s abilities develop.

What do you have to use for tokens? For kids beneath the age of three years, it’s vital to decide on one thing that gained’t pose a choking hazard. In accordance with the U.S. Shopper Product Security Fee, a ball-shaped object is unsafe for youngsters beneath 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 suppose that little toy frogs or spiders would make counting extra enjoyable. However researchers have discovered that younger youngsters are inclined to get distracted by these particulars. Children truly be taught extra from math actions once they manipulate easier, extra summary objects (Petersen and McNeil 2012). Plastic chips — like these used for poker or bingo — are a good selection for youngsters aged 3 and up.

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

Right here is one other exercise to assist youngsters 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 little one set the desk for them. Then give your little one a set of “goodies” (tokens or actual edibles) to share with the occasion company. The overall variety of goodies must be a a number of of three, so your little one can distribute all of the objects equally and don’t have any leftovers.

In case your little one makes a mistake and provides one creature too many tokens, you may voice the a part of one of many different characters and complain. You can even take turns enjoying the position of the tea occasion host and intentionally make a mistake. Ask in your little one’s assist. Did somebody get too many tokens? Or not sufficient? Have your little one repair it.

Actions for educating 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 use them in 3 ways.

Recreation: Guess the correct order

To play this recreation, shuffle the playing cards, after which ask your little one to put them, facet by facet, in a sequence of accelerating magnitude.

For kids who haven’t but realized to depend, use playing cards that adjust by a considerable quantity, e.g., 3, 6, 10, and 15. For kids with rising counting abilities, use playing cards that differ by a single dot, and have youngsters guess first, then verify their solutions by counting. 

What’s the purpose of all this guesswork? Experiments present that even infants can spot variations this huge, and working towards these duties might assist youngsters 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 tougher discriminations — getting correct suggestions after every try — skilled subsequent enhancements of their capability to unravel issues utilizing symbolic numbers (Wang et al 2016).

Recreation: Guess which card has extra dots?

To play this recreation, choose two playing cards, every displaying a special variety of dots, and present them to your little one. Which card has extra dots?

Be sure to begin with playing cards that differ by a ratio of no less than  2:1. As an illustration, strive 1 vs. 2, 2 vs. 4, and a pair of vs. 5. You can even strive bigger numbers, like 6 vs. 12.

As your little one will get follow with these easy-to-discriminate variations, you may 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 faux they’re one thing enjoyable, like desserts. Dole out totally different quantities between you and ask, “Who has extra?” Make sure to give your little one suggestions concerning the right reply.

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

Recreation: Large guys eat extra

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

  1. Line up the three toys so as of dimension.
  2. Current your little one with three playing cards, every card depicting a special variety of dots.
  3. Ask your little one to present the best variety of treats to the biggest toy, the second-greatest quantity to the second-largest toy, and the smallest quantity to the smallest toy.

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

When you desire, you may play the sport with tokens as a substitute of playing cards. And as soon as your little one has began to learn and perceive quantity symbols, you need to use playing cards that show solely Arabic numerals. It will assist youngsters follow quantity recognition.

When researchers examined comparable preschool quantity actions, they discovered that each dot-based and numeral-based video games helped youngsters develop higher intuitions about amount. However youngsters who performed the Arabic numeral model of the sport skilled better progress in primary arithmetic abilities (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 beneath

Fake play actions for educating youngsters about quantity symbols

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

For example, they cite an instance of two preschoolers engaged in fantasy role-playing a couple of “Dinosaur Store.” One participant acted because the store keeper (providing toy dinosaurs on the market). The opposite participant, the client, had cash (a deck of playing cards, with every displaying a special, Arabic numeral, a corresponding variety of dots). The client would buy various dinosaurs by handing over a card: Give the store keeper a card with the quantity “5” on it, and it is best to obtain 5 dinosaur toys in return. Then gamers might depend to substantiate an correct transaction.

So video games of shopping for and promoting might assist youngsters 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 verify for accuracy by counting the toppings and evaluating this with the numeral on the cardboard (Clements and Sarama 2009).
  • Delivering the Mail. Arrange a “road” with a collection of various “properties” arrayed alongside it. Mark every house with a “resident” (a toy or doll), in addition to a quantity card displaying the specified tackle. Ensure the addresses are lined up in numerical order (1, 2, 3…). Then ask your little one to ship the “mail” – letters and packages marked with the specified addresses.

A puppet recreation for educating 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 be taught that every merchandise in a collection is counted as soon as and solely as soon as. In addition they must be taught the precept of cardinality, the concept the final phrase in our depend represents the numerosity of a set.

Youngsters be taught these concepts by way of follow. However they may additionally be taught 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 fallacious cardinal worth.

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

Children ranging in age from 3 to five had been fairly good at detecting these violations. So your little one may need enjoyable correcting your individual goofball at house.

What in case your little one doesn’t discover an error? Right the puppet your self. And both manner, ask your little one to elucidate what went fallacious. In one other, comparable research, researchers discovered that preschoolers didn’t make conceptual progress except they had been requested to elucidate 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 evaluate of the proof.

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

Younger youngsters have an extended method 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 of construct their intuitions about addition and subtraction by asking the correct questions. A method to do that is by enjoying a recreation.

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

Subsequent, have the puppet bake yet one more cake and add it to the set. Are there extra desserts or fewer desserts now? Ask your little one, and supply her or him with right suggestions afterwards.

You’ll be able to strive the identical factor with subtraction by having the puppet “eat” a cake. And differ the sport by including or subtracting different small quantities, like two or three.

Ought to we count on youngsters to provide you with correct solutions? Not essential — particularly not if they’re beneath the age of three years (Izard et al 2014). However the expertise of predicting and checking is efficacious, and even when youngsters get the exact quantity fallacious, they do a great job developing with affordable guesses. When researchers requested 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds to carry out these duties, they discovered that 90% of the guesses had been in the correct path (Zur and Gelman 2004).

Board video games that educate preschoolers concerning the quantity line

As your little one begins to grasp the primary few quantity phrases, you may also check out this DIY board recreation for educating preschoolers concerning the quantity line. Together with full directions for creating this recreation — a recreation examined by researchers — additionally, you will discover a dialogue of whether or not youngsters can profit from enjoying the normal recreation, 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 youngsters. Proceedings of the Nationwide Academy of Sciences 105(35): 13179-13184.

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

Clements DH and Sarama J. 2009. Studying trajectories in early arithmetic—sequences of acquisition and educating. Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Growth (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 youngsters’s numerical competence. Cognitive Growth 1(1): 1-29.

Honoré N and Noël MP. 2016. Enhancing 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 precise quantity: younger youngsters use one-to-one correspondence to measure set id 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 ideas. Cognition.  105:395–438. 

Levenson ES, Barkai R, Tirosh D, Tsamir P. 2022. Exploring adults’ consciousness of and recommendations 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 Growth 12(4): 463-480.

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

Muldoon KP, Lewis C, Francis B. 2007. Utilizing cardinality to evaluate portions: the position 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. Baby 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 Expertise. 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. Altering the precision of preschoolers’ approximate quantity system representations adjustments their symbolic math efficiency. J Exp Baby Psychol. 147:82-99.

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

Zur O and Gelman R. 2004. Younger youngsters 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 writer.

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 baggage from: Honoré N and Noël MP. 2016. Enhancing 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 Inventive Commons Attribution License

picture of puppet copyright Parenting Science

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