Teaching Number Sense
Teaching number sense in kindergarten is an important skill to focus on developing because it's a math skill on which many other skills are built. It includes understanding concepts like more or less in a quantity, that numbers are representative of quantities, and grouping items too. In kindergarten, these skills are useful when composing and decomposing numbers. They are necessary for kindergarten children to understand simple addition and subtraction problems. Later on, strong number sense will continue to have a role in students’ abilities to solve math problems. Essentially, young students need to have well-developed number sense in their early years in order to be successful in math. This number sense will be the strong foundation that kindergarten students need to thrive down the road.
The question becomes how do we as teachers help young children build number sense? The answer is simple—the same way we build any other skill, by letting students practice and by giving them time. Kindergarteners need many various opportunities throughout the year to practice counting and grouping and to explore the relationship between numbers and the quantities they represent. This can be done in a variety of ways but I wanted to share with you some of my favorites!
One-to-One Correspondence Activities
One-to-one correspondence is one of the earliest and simplest ways to get students to begin building number sense. In these types of activities, students see that even when quantities are represented in different ways, they still equal the same amount. They can also begin to make the connection between numbers and quantities and see that each number represents the quantity of the objects counted when counting one-to-one.
This resource in my TpT store is great because it gives students an opportunity to use manipulatives, along with the pictures I provided. You can give students erasers, pom-poms, blocks, or whatever else you have on hand, which they can then use to match the quantity on the given card using one-to-one correspondence. This is one way to make simple counting a fun way to build a child’s ability around number sense!
There are so many ways that you can incorporate counting into your math center time. It can be something as simple as a counting collection that students count orally. You can also use more complex activities where students have to make the connection between the numeral and the quantity shown. For example, students could count out given quantities using manipulatives and a 10 frame. They could also represent specific numbers using illustrations. Students could even do activities where a quantity is shown on one piece of the center activity and has to be matched to the number on another piece.
One of my favorite center activities for building number sense with my kindergarteners is when using clip cards. On each new card, a quantity is shown. After the verbal counting of that quantity, students will then use a clothes pin to clip the corresponding number, and this assists with number identification, number recognition, and better understanding number relationships. Not only does it give them plenty of counting practice, but it is also easy to prepare and only requires that you have the printed cards and clothespins.
Overall, math centers’ time can be a great time for students to put in the time and practice necessary to build a child’s fluidity around number sense.
Math journals can be another great way for kindergarteners to build number sense. In this particular math journal that I created, there are several number sense activities that help reinforce these important skills for students. I include pieces that show the number represented in multiple ways, a place for students to represent the quantity with a drawing, and places for them to write the number so they can make the important number-quantity connection.
One of the things I love most about math journals is that they are customizable, so you can include the pieces that are relevant to your students. You can even add other fun, foundational ideas you may have. Another perk is that your students can refer back to them at any time during the school year.
While number posters aren’t exactly a way of teaching number sense, they are a way of reinforcing it. Like math journals, they can give students something to refer to at any point they may need them. I like to use posters that show the numeral, along with multiple ways to show a quantity. For example, the poster could display the number, ten frames, and real world pictures showing the quantity like the number posters I have in my TpT store.
I have also seen posters that display quantities as tally marks, snap cubes, and even fingers. The most important thing is that they show numbers and quantities clearly so that students can have a constant visual representation. This reinforces the relationship between numbers and the quantities that they represent further reinforcing good number sense.
Number Sense in Kindergarten Conclusion
Like many other skills we teach in kindergarten, number sense is a skill that comes with repetition and time. By giving students multiple opportunities to practice numbers and counting throughout the year, we are helping them to build number sense. Having students practice these skills in a variety of ways also helps establish those number sense skills that they will need when using more complex mathematical thinking later on.
Don’t forget one important part: Kindergarten math can be fun too! Instilling excitement around basic math operations at an early age can bode well in future grades when advancing their math skills. Instilling these new ideas at an early age with a sense of fun will not only make the understanding of numbers easier for them, but ideally foster a love for mathematical problems, learning in general, and beyond!
Before you go, check out this fun set for celebrating the 100th Day of School. And let me know in the comments below about different strategies or math units you love to teach! Know any fun math games or board games that assist with the development of math skills?