Did you know that children can understand many basic number concepts even in infancy? Number symbols, however, are a cultural invention (similar to written letters) whose meaning must be learned.
You can help your child draw on their existing math skills and develop the ability to identify and write numbers with the following activity. Not only will it demonstrate how well your child understands symbolic representation (the concept that an image can stand for an idea), but it will also help them take the next steps in applying it. Try it out in your daily routine, perhaps after your child gets home from preschool or before they get ready for bed!
- 2-3 small objects (toys, crayons, rocks, etc.)
- a small box, such as a shoebox or empty cereal box
- a notecard
- a pencil
1. Put the objects in the box and count them with your child.
Work with your learner to put the items in the box and count them; help only as much as necessary.
2. Have your child record the number of items in the box.
Give your child the notecard and ask them to write something that will help them remember how many items are in the box. Children generally graduate from drawing pictures to making hash marks or dots to finally writing numerals. Whatever they write or draw, encourage them to reflect on their symbols and their own thinking by asking questions. You can start more broadly with, “Tell me about your drawing.” Then ask, “What does your drawing show you about the things in the box?” or “What part tells you about the number?”
3. Put the notecard and box away for 5-10 minutes.
Put the notecard and the box in a safe place and go on with your routine, whether it’s eating a snack or brushing teeth. You’ll want to wait long enough so that your learner doesn’t simply remember the number of items, but no so long that they lose interest, before bringing out the box again.
4. Give your child the notecard and ask how many items are in the box.
Have your child use their notations on the card to figure out how many objects are in the box. If they get it right, give them a high five and review what the card told them. Ask, “Why did it work?” If they get it wrong, celebrate how close they got and what the card told them. Ask, “Why didn’t it work?”
This activity can (and should) be done again and again! It allows your child to play with number symbols at whatever level they can, but it also gives you an opportunity to challenge your learner by introducing different numerals and higher quantities of objects or by turning the activity into a basic addition or subtraction game. Feel free to make it your own, and then watch as your child’s abilities improve!
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