Missing Number Game

Can you figure out what numeral is missing? 😉

Missing Number Game with Numeral or Dice Rocks

This may seem like a fairly basic game but children enjoy playing it and it is a great way to teach them ordinality (how we order numbers/numerals in a certain sequence). Children need plenty of practice learning what our numerals look like as well as their sequence. I usually play this game with children age 3-6 (nursery through year 1). For younger children it provides the opportunity to practice recognising numbers and playing with the support of an adult. For older children (5-6 year olds) it can provide practice in their understanding of number order as well as play independently with friends. Both situations provide the opportunity to learn and practice turn taking, sharing, and how to following the rules of a game. Games provide an excellent opportunity for children to practice listening to instructions and then following them.

What you need

  • Numerals or objects with numerals or numbers on them (in this case I have used my number rocks)
  • 2+ people to play

For children just beginning to learn their numbers you could start with 3 or 4 numerals and as they become more confident you could use more. When I have played with 5 and 6 year olds we’ve used around 20 numbers (sometimes more or less depending on children’s knowledge and experience of numerals).

How to play

First allow children to play around with the numbers and put them in the correct order. If you like, you can show them how you count the numbers with a number line or 100s square by pointing to each numeral and jumping up to the next one. Then you can show them how to play:

Player 1 must close their eyes. Then player 2 choses a number to remove and puts it to the side/hides it so that player 1 cannot see it. Then push the remaining numbers closer together so that player 1 won’t be able to see where the gap is. Player 1 then open’s their eyes and has to look and see if they can figure out which number is missing. If they are struggling you may suggest some strategies to help such as starting at number 1 and then counting up and pointing to see if the numerals are correct. You may also need to prompt them with some questions (see below). If children are still really struggling to do this it may be that there are too many numbers. You need to cut it back the numbers until they become more confident in recognising more numerals.

Questions to ask

  • What is one more than… 5 etc.? Is that the number that you see there? If not what number is it? So what number is missing from our number line?
  • Can you count from 1 to 5… 10…20? Show me!
  • What is one more or one less than … 3 etc.?
  • What comes after/before … 4?

What they get from it

This is a great activity for children to practice ordering numbers and to recall the correct order, giving them the opportunity to further to further develop their understanding of the ordinal aspect of numbers. As I mentioned in my Numeral and Dice Rocks post, according to Haylock and Cockburn (2017) children are usually not given enough opportunities to learn about the ordinal (the order, e.g. like the order of the pages in a book) aspects of numbers as compared to cardinal (the value of numbers). Playing games with adults and peers is a really important way for children to have positive interactions with others, learn skills such as turn taking, managing their feelings and behaviour, develop self-awareness and develop ways to resolve conflicts. Â Thus playing games is a fantastic way for children to develop social emotional skills, increasingly thought to be a significant factor in children’s long-term academic achievement and success Â (Konishi, C. & Wong, T., 2018).

Take it further

Please also see my post on the Swapping Numbers Game which also helps children continue to develop their understanding of the order of numbers as well as to provide the opportunity to play games and develop the social emotional skills to equip them for life.

Once children become secure with numbers up to 20 and beyond, they can start to think about numbers to 100 by using 100 squares.  Making 100 square puzzles are a great way for children to start to visualize a hundreds square which will help them to think about how our number system is organized (e.g. groups of 10) and will stand them in good stead for when they move on to addition and subtraction.


Haylock, D., & Cockburn, A. (2017). Understanding mathematics for young children (5th ed.). London: Sage Publications.

Konishi, C., & Wong, T. (2018).  Relationships and School Success: From a Social-Emotional Learning Prespective.  In Health and Academic Achievement.  Accessed 5 August 2019, www.intechopen.com/books/health-and-academic-achievement/relationships-and-school-success-from-a-social-emotional-learning-perspective


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