How to Teach Number Sense to Kids

As teachers we have all come across a student who just has a hard time learning numbers; so when I came across an article written by Lily Jones, the founder of, a company which provides fun educational activities to help inspire a love of learning for kids, I was very curious to see what she had to say. She wrote that kids start working to understand mathematical ideas at a very young age, and gave the following examples for a better understanding. She stated that children see objects as more or less and when given the choice of two items, they will choose the larger one every time. They discover the meaning of subtraction when their favorite toy is taken away, and understand simple addition when they ask you to read one more story at bedtime. Although this is a start, a connection needs to be made with the ideas mentioned above in order for them to have a more concrete understanding of numbers.

Jones stated that the first step is to help children develop number sense, understand the meaning of numbers, how they work together as well as the connection to real life. When you see children applying math or see them counting, point it out, complement them, Identify the type of math they are using and they will somehow start to see themselves as mathematicians. In the classroom we perform this task with Sensorial materials such as the Pink Tower and the Red Rods.

The second step is to put all the focus on the process, not the answer. When children practice counting, they’re learning to match each object they are counting to each number they are saying. Give them large objects to count, and let them do this on their own and resist the urge to correct them when you see them make a mistake. Ask them to double check their work instead. This gives them a chance to find the mistakes on their own and eventually have a better understanding of number sense. The classroom offers numerous opportunities for children with “self-correcting lessons;” that is, lessons that show the child that he made an error without judgment, and he reacts by doing it again until he gets it right.

The third step is to develop math practices. We have to help children get into the habit of checking their work and be able to explain their thinking. They will begin to see that math problems can have one right answer but with many ways of solving them. Using different ways to build number sense will help students find that there are connections in math all around us. However the most important thing we can do for them is to help them see that math is fun. In the classroom we help this understanding with such lessons as bead chains, in which they can easily grasp that 3 + 3 + 3 is the same as 3 x 3.

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