Children are naturally interested in numbers and finding out “how much” and “how many.” They learn to use their developing number skills to compare who has more blocks or to find out how many crackers are in their lunch boxes. Children then begin to learn that number symbols can represent many different quantities, such as how many blocks they have, how old they are, or what day of the month it is. With concrete objects and in everyday contexts, they will start to build the skills they need to answer “plus one” and “minus one” number problems.
Early Childhood Math: Number and Operations
This video introduces four ways you can build your child’s number skills. Following the video, you can review more activities to do during your everyday routines and play to have fun with numbers. The activities are presented in order of how the related skills typically develop for young children. For example, number recognition and counting are pre-requisite skills for comparing and problem solving.
Recognizing small numbers or subitizing means to practice recognizing the total number of objects in small collections (one to three items) and labeling them with a number word without needing to count them. Subitizing is an important strategy that your child will use one day to support more complex problem-solving.
At young ages, you may hear your child say numbers that they have heard you or a sibling say, but out of order. Eventually, verbal counting develops into one-to-one counting–saying the correct number for each object, then identifying the last number counted as the total number of objects in a set (cardinality), and then counting out a collection of objects correctly. Mastering each of these steps in the development of counting can be challenging for your child, but there are ways you can help.
Once children can accurately recognize number (subitizing) or count to answer how many objects are in a collection, they are ready to compare numbers. Keep in mind that children develop counting and number recognition at different rates. It is OK if your child is still working on these foundational skills for a while. Repeating activities is OK too if you and your child are having fun and want to spend more time mastering foundational skills before moving onto comparing.
Sometimes, children may already recognize numerals (number symbols, e.g., 1, 5, 8) in the world around them–such as numbers on a street sign or poster–before they are able to count. However, once children have a basic understanding of numbers and counting, it may become easier for them to learn about numerals and how they can represent amounts of something.
Once your child develops basic number skills, they can begin using their subitizing, counting, and comparing strategies to perform simple adding and subtracting problems.