Learning numbers with subitizing
In this post, we will explore learning numbers with subitizing. Numicon are a great resource to help children learn about numbers. They are visual, tactile and can be used in so many different ways. The fact that they have holes in them to represent the numbers lends itself to putting small objects in it to aid in counting. Their arrangement also makes it easy for children to begin to subitize (recognising the value of a set like with dice), even with larger values. We use numerals to represent the value of numbers. Children must understand those values before they can go on to do any more abstract maths.
I can’t reiterate enough how important it is for children to use physical objects to help them learn about the value of numbers, how to count and then eventually how to add, subtract, multiply, divide and so on. They will need physical resources that they can see, touch and move in order to help them understand the value of numerals and how the value changes when something is added, taken away, etc. Children need to be able to do this repeatedly over years rather than months and preferably in many different ways and contexts.
What you need
- Numicon or Ten Frame Towers
- Toy tweezers (optional- additional way to build fine motor skills)
- Numerals (optional to match with the numicon)
To start with you may just want to have children count the holes in the numicon and then count pom-poms to go into the holes. Counting these things helps children develop cardinality – knowing the number of objects in a set by either counting them or subsitizing them. Children must also learn that when they are counting the group of objects, the last number counted represents the value of the group. It also gives children the opportunity to practice counting one-to-one (knowing that you only count one object out of a group one time).
When learning to count, young children often miss counting objects in a set, count them more than one time, or when saying the value of the set say the number after the value that they counted (e.g. they counted 4 objects but then they will say that they have 5 or sometimes a completely random number!) They need lots of practice to learn that each object is counted but only once, and that the number we say represents the value of the set.
Once children are confident with counting one-to-one and beginning to understand cardinality (the 5ness of 5 for example), you then can also get children to link the value of the numicon with the numeral by matching them (like in this activity).
Questions to ask to help children learn numbers with subitizing
- How many holes are there? How many pom-poms will you need to fill it?
- Can you show me how you move the pom-poms one at a time as you count them?
- Does that one have greater or fewer holes/pom-poms? How do you know?
- Can you put two numicon together to make another value? How many holes now? How many pom-poms will you need to fill them?
What they get from it
This activity will help children with learning numbers with subitizing. This gives children the opportunity to practice early counting skills such as counting one-to-one, understanding cardinality, and subsitizing.
Using small objects to fill in the holes in the numicon not only makes it fun but also gets children practising pincer movement. Alternatively, if you use tweezers it also builds hand strength and hand-eye coordination.
Take it further
You could use numicon for practising counting in a water tray or an outside space with flat glass beads, tapioca balls, or water beads. You may also want to see my posts on counting autumn nuts with numicon and autumn counting activities.
You could get children to begin to look at what happens when you add one valued numicon onto any of the numicon. This way you could begin to look at one more and how that changes the value of the set (e.g. it becomes the next number up).