Building Strong Number Sense in Kids

Building strong number sense in kids during early learning

Most of us will find working with numbers a challenge at some point in our lives. While it can be easy to brush this off and think all that’s needed to manage this is a good calculator, the reality is quite different. 

Developing a strong number sense in kids is essential to healthy cognitive development and for an individual’s ability to understand and use numbers in practice. Not solely tied to mathematics, number sense is an essential skill needed to succeed in other key academic and practical areas.  

In this guide, we’ll delve into what number sense is, its importance and the lifelong benefits it can provide as well as strategies for building a strong number sense in your child. 

What Is Number Sense?

In simple terms, number sense refers to a person’s ability to understand, relate, and connect numbers. It involves a combination of key skills and abilities which are essential for performing mathematical and other everyday tasks.

Five identified components characterise number sense: number meaning, number relationships, number magnitude, operations involving numbers and referents for numbers and quantities.

As the above indicates, number sense goes beyond simple awareness or recognition of numbers and instead covers things such as:

  • Understanding quantities
  • Size and volume concepts like larger and smaller or more and less
  • Understanding listed number orders like 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th etc. 
  • Comprehension of number symbols representing quantities and their correlation to written numbers, for example, 5 and five mean the same.
  • Being able to make number comparisons, i.e. 10 is less than 15.
  • Recognising how single items and groups of items can share a relationship. For example, eight can mean one group of eight items. 

Not everyone will share a strong number sense, with some having a much more developed number sense than others. 

Why Developing Number Sense In Kids Matters

Developing a strong number sense in childhood is so important as it promotes confidence and encourages flexible thinking with numbers. 

Rather than seeing numbers as something difficult to work with, number sense teaches them to create a relationship with numbers. It teaches children to think of maths as a language instead of something to be feared.

What Does This Look Like In Practice? 

Depending on the age of your child a strong number sense may look like:

  • The ability to perform mental maths calculations quickly and accurately. 
  • A flexible approach to manipulating numbers for easier calculations rather than a reliance on a single method.
  • The application of mathematical concepts to real-world situations for enhanced problem-solving.
  • Better comprehension and engagement in mathematical activities.
  • Easy visualisation of numbers, numerical concepts, connections and fluency in the expression of these.
  • Confidence in estimating quantities, size, weight or similar. 

Conversely, where number sense is poorly developed in childhood can lead to challenges that carry on into adulthood.

This may show up as difficulty when doing maths-related activities like addition, subtraction or multiplication among others. Yet it is not limited to this educational arena alone. It can also make it challenging to undertake everyday situations such as using money, measuring ingredients, time management and more.

All of these issues can create a lack of confidence. This will contribute to ongoing learning stress and difficulty in children and continued difficulties as an adult.

The best way to avoid these challenges both in childhood and beyond? By supporting your child in developing a strong number sense during their formative years of education.

Developing number sense

Long-Term Benefits Of Developing Strong Number Sense In Kids

Strong comprehension and flexibility in mathematical thinking such as that seen in children with a strong number sense is not only beneficial in their early years. Across their lifetime it can benefit them through:

Greater Academic Achievement

Children who possess a strong number sense are better equipped to succeed in mathematics at every stage of their academic journey. 

This success can lead to higher achievement across several academic areas and open doors to further education in a broader range of settings and vocations. 

Advanced Critical Thinking Skills

Learning to think flexibly about numbers and how to analyse, evaluate and manipulate them to solve mathematical problems also supports better critical thinking skills.

This not only applies to maths but to other academic disciplines and real-life situations, giving your child the skills to navigate life with greater ease. 

The Development Of A Lifelong Love Of Learning

Cultivating a positive association with mathematics early on and being intentional about nurturing a strong number sense, can help to remove learning barriers and make it easier to learn. 

This in turn supports your child to be more interested in learning and to enjoy doing so throughout their lifetime.  

Broader Career Opportunities 

Being proficient in mathematics and having a strong number sense can provide access to a wider range of career paths. Not only in more obvious mathematical fields such as engineering, IT or accounting but also in medicine, veterinary sciences, chemistry, and more.  

Enhanced Confidence & Trust In Their Abilities 

Supporting your child to acquire a strong number sense early on can see them become confident learners who trust in their abilities to make sense of and decipher information independently. 

They are less easily overwhelmed or panicked, even during exam periods or high-pressure learning environments. 

Strategies For Building Number Sense In Kids

While many schools and educational institutions are giving more attention to the development of number sense in children, supporting your child at home is something we strongly recommend. 

You can foster a strong number sense in kids through a combination of strategies that we have outlined below. 

Hands-On Learning

You may like to incorporate maths manipulatives such as counting blocks, number lines, and ten frames to help children visualise and manipulate numbers. Items more easily found at home such as Lego pieces, building blocks or marbles are also great for this. 

Encouraging your child to count out loud while they handle these items and group them in quantities engages multiple senses. This aids in reinforcing the understanding of number orders and helps to build the connection between verbal counting and physical objects. 

This can also support children to see that numbers are more than words, they can have many representations from dots to marbles, written numerals to ten frames and much more. 

Real-World Contexts

Showing your children how mathematical concepts relate to everyday situations helps to establish their usefulness and relevance. 

For instance, grocery shopping together is the perfect opportunity to practise addition and subtraction. Likewise, baking provides a chance to explore fractions, quantities and measurement.

Number Talks

Encourage discussions focused on number relationships, patterns, and strategies for mental maths. 

At home, this might look like working out how many minutes there are till bedtime or it could involve estimating whether there are more or less apples versus bananas in the fruit bowl.

Working together and independently you can share different approaches to solving problems. This promotes flexibility in problem-solving and demonstrates how there can be multiple ways to achieve the right answer.

Exploration & Play

Don’t forget to provide opportunities for open-ended exploration and play with numbers. These activities do not have to be obviously maths-related. 

Many of these activities stimulate curiosity and creativity while reinforcing mathematical concepts without children even being aware of it. 

For example:

Board games such as Monopoly involve using pretend money to buy and sell property and pay rent or fines while also earning funds as you go. 

This requires a lot of mental calculations such as addition and subtraction as well as hands-on learning equating pretend money to item values.   

Puzzles rely heavily on an understanding of patterns and an individual’s ability to use logical reasoning and strategy to solve them. 

Card games like UNO are a great way to introduce number sense in kids, even in very young children. Involving number matching and recognition, it can be easily modified to include addition, subtraction, multiplication or division. 

It can also be used to introduce the concept of odd and even numbers, ordering and sequencing, greater and less than and more.

UNO is a great card game to introduce numbers

Modelling Mathematical Thinking

Think out loud and narrate your problem-solving strategies and mathematical reasoning. 

This gives children insights into your thought process as you solve problems, and shows how different approaches can be taken to finding a solution. 

Cater To Your Child

Everyone has diverse learning styles and abilities, it’s important to recognise this in your child and find a mix of strategies that work for them.

The key thing to remember is that creating opportunities to introduce number sense concepts to your child and build on their abilities, does not have to be complex or time-consuming. 

As indicated above, there are so many everyday situations that can be used for this. 

Additionally, by applying number sense to commonplace scenarios in a relaxed environment children often learn and retain the information more easily. 

Give Your Children A Strong Head Start With Shichida

At Shichida Australia, we specialise in supporting children to develop a variety of skills including strong number sense. 

Experts in enhancing cognitive development during the early childhood and primary years, we offer an engaging educational program designed to target key learning areas. 

Prioritising parental involvement and focusing on making education fun, we work to unleash your child’s full potential and instil a lifelong love of learning

To get started or learn more about how we can help, call today at 1800 386 647.

Book a Trial Class

Join us for an engaging and interactive trial class, and see why so many people choose the Shichida method of education for their children.

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