Number Play

by Deb on August 9, 2010

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Maths comes a close second to science in my loves.  But I know how much number is pushed at young kids, so I tend to avoid it with my girls and instead we talk about shapes, size, patterns and directions.  The other day the big girl announced she wanted to play with the numbers and got them out.  She can count to 20 easily even though she doesn’t really understand the numbers, but I thought it was a good chance to introduce the base 10 number system.  That may sound daunting, but it is the pattern all our numbers are based on and really does make life much easier for kids.

She happily sorted the numbers and put out the first 10 herself, then I got her to start from 10 on the next line.  She quickly noticed we were lining the numbers up under each other and commented that we needed a lot of ones.  By 14 and 15 she was working out what they would be and was very excited to finish putting the numbers in the line herself.  She even guessed what 20 would look like, and added 21 and 22 before we ran out of time.  Afterwards she told me that the next line would have all 3s in front.

While she was finding the numbers we were talking about all the patterns – that all the teens have a one and all the twenties have a two, and that if we start with zero the second numbers all line up under each other.  It’s not an activity I would have planned to do with her, but having chosen to get the numbers out she had a wonderful time.  And now, a few days later, she still gets that there is a pattern.  This will make it far easier for her to learn counting, because instead of learning each number she understands that there are rules to be able to work them out.

This post is part of the Childhood 101 We Play linkup.

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Michelle August 9, 2010 at 9:15 am

Great post Deb! My 4.5 year old has been trying to learn to count to 100 lately – for some reason this is critically important to her! Anyway, I tried teaching her to count in 10’s but she still doesn’t quite get it. I hadn’t thought of laying the numbers out though – I reckon she’d get that.

Can I ask what those numbers you’ve used are? Are they foam shapes? Magnets? Something else? Not sure that I have anything with that many numbers in it at the moment


Deb August 9, 2010 at 9:44 am

It’s a set of foam stickers with letters and numbers, the school was throwing them out because they aren’t sticky anymore. So probably an educational supplier would be the best place to get them. We have some other foam from the $2 sop that we’ve drawn extra letters on, that might be another option.


Sarah August 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Oriental Trading Company has a large set for $5 – I’m not sure how they compare size wise to what you have, but it looks like a good deal.


Shar August 9, 2010 at 2:19 pm

I could see this being a really lovely classroom activity. I can picture the children ‘teaching’ each other too. Thank you for sharing, I have created a link on my blog so I can remember when school starts again. 🙂
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John Hunter August 9, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Great post, it is amazing how kids minds learn. Taking small steps to encourage math learning is so helpful to getting them set on the right track. They have such an innate love of learning if we can just allow that to flourish great things happen.
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Sophie August 9, 2010 at 7:35 pm

Thank you for this post, and I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks kids are pushed into number learning too early and/or too intensively! My daughter’s “best fwend”‘s Mum is constantly pointing out letters and numbers, describing how they look and asking them to tell her which is which… THEY’VE ONLY JUST TURNED 3!! /rant

I love this blog though, and have forwarded it to DD’s childminder, who is very big on just taking the kids out and about, and letting them learn by exploring and looking at how things happen (the friend mentioned above goes to a preschool – can you tell?).


Ro August 9, 2010 at 8:43 pm

Great post, Deb 🙂
My kiddo mastered algebra after loathing maths due to the number patterns he was able to visualise from playing with these kind of foam/plastic toy numbers.
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Kristine August 9, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I use to use this activity as a teacher and it’s great for kids at that stage but also great for understanding the place value system to 1000. Kids often when counting go 108, 109, 200, If you continue the way you have to 100. Then start again for 201 – 300 until you can see that you need to count up to -99 before changing the hundreds number and also that 300 is three groups of 100…

I had never thought about how focused our society is on littlies learning numbers. I hardly ever talk to my daughter about numbers. I feel I don’t really need to as she often counts things just because she’s interested in knowing how many there are.


Little Wonders' Days August 10, 2010 at 9:29 am

It’s so exciting to see them love learning and be so excited!
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Marita August 10, 2010 at 12:12 pm

I can see Heidi really enjoying that because it is so visual 🙂
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Mom and Kiddo August 10, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Nice idea. My oldest has been obsessed with numbers since he was 2 and can spend a lot of time playing with numbers like this.
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katepickle August 10, 2010 at 9:28 pm

As someone who doesn’t enjoy maths and numbers this is actually a really logical way to show how numbers work for little kids… filing this away in my brain for the day when I go back to work as a preschool teacher! thanks!


Colleen - Sunrise Learning Lab August 11, 2010 at 2:53 am

Neat math activity!
Looks like it would be an enjoyable one for little ones.
My younger one would like this math work.
We are big into science and math here too…
Thanks for sharing.
Happy Tuesday!
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amandab August 11, 2010 at 7:17 am

We have a wonderful number jigsaw puzzle that goes up to 20, but Princess still doesn’t get the patterns of numbers. She can count to 12 just fine, but then it starts getting confused. And then she gets to “28, 29, 20-10, 20-11” ! I will correct her, but she just laughs at me and keeps going LOL

Did you see my twitter update about teaching XY and YY chromsones with the alphabet jigsaw?? Wow! The question kids ask, and the creative ways we have to use to explain them! (She asked how you get boys …. ) I think this will be the basis of my teach/learn post 😀

Reply August 11, 2010 at 9:30 am

I like that you let her manipulate the materials before you ever plan to use them. This is a great introduction to the materials and she will have already played with them and they will be familiar when you are ready to use them as a teaching tool. Lots of great comments from everyone. 🙂


Anne@LittleSproutBooks August 11, 2010 at 10:19 am

We’ve talked about the pattern, but never physically laid out numbers – what a smart way to look at it! My preschooler is ripe for this kind of activity – he loves counting things and gets frustrated when he gets stuck at 29!


Caroline Mukisa August 14, 2010 at 8:02 pm

My 3 yr old loves everything maths, especially if it’s practical based or if he can be the “teacher”. I’ll see if he wants to add this to his lesson planning folder!


Christie - Childhood 101 August 16, 2010 at 9:28 pm

I love the way that you used a physical, hands on resource to support the play and learning, so important for young children.
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