Number Sense in Early Childhood Education

Learning mathematics is an on going process that starts developing at a very young age. According to research, development starts in the infancy stage and is therefore considered to be an innate capacity.

According to the Early Learning for Every Child Today framework, numeracy involves the development of confidence and competence with numbers and measures. It requires the understanding of the number system, mathematical techniques and the ability to solve quantitative or special problems in a range of contexts.

Research shows that children learn to count between ages two and five. However, this skill of counting forwards and backwards does not encompass the entire concept. The ability of basic counting is essential, but it needs to be build on through play-based activities, exploration of objects and social interactions.

There are five principles of counting that should be developed in younger children, which are:

1. The one-to-one principle
2. The stable-order principle
3. The cardinal principle
4. The abstraction principle
5. The order irrelevance principle

To get a more in-depth understanding of the principles please take a look at this short video clip called The Five Principles of Early Counting.

In addition, a theoretical model of early arithmetical development has been developed by Kristin Krajeweski. She has divided it into three levels, the first one being introduction to basic numerical skills, second being the quantity-number concept and thirdly the concept of number relationships.

At the beginning stage of learning mathematics children do not match the number sequence with quantities, as they only recite number words. From the basic numerical level children move to the second level which is the linkage between number words and quantity. They learn that a number represents quantity and that there is a connection between these two. Based on the understanding of Krajewski and Schneider’s work children develop a vague conception of number words and the quantities, which what they use to assign number words to rough quantity categories . Children acknowledge that two means a bit, twenty means much and hundred means very much. Furthermore, at the third level children get an understanding of number relationships. They acknowledge that quantity relations can be represented through decomposition of numbers, for example, two numbers that are added together produce a third number (Krajewski & Schneider, 2009).

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Since the concept definition and theory have been discussed, now it is important to share resources that will support and engage children in learning number sense.

Books are one of my favourite teaching tools and I love reading to children. Reading books about numbers that cover the concept enhances children’s thinking and engages them through open-ended discussions.

Here are some books that can be used by educators, FDK teachers, parents and other family members.

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Great book that is related to everyday life. Click on the image to look inside.

Family involvement is very important and therefore practicing number sense at home is a great way to support your child. Have a look at Danielle Hittle’s blog called  FUN WAYS TO BUILD NUMBER SENSE AT HOME.  She is a parent, educator, and curriculum designer. She has over fifteen years of teaching experience in Elementary Education with an MS in Integrated Teaching and Learning from Ohio State University.

In terms of my own experience, I have implemented number sense activities in a preschool, Full Day Kindergarten and grade one classroom. Recently, I implemented a hands-on activity with a grade one class. We were learning to count by 5’s; therefore I had each child trace one of their hands on a long piece of paper. At the end as a group we counted them out loud, and posted them in the classroom.

This is a simple activity that can be done at home by a caregiver or at school with an educator.


Another activity that I have implemented with a grade one class was a guessing jar game where children had to take a guess of how many bears there were in each jar. The following step was to open the jars and count how many there actually were.

I also created a basic worksheet for children to keep track of their answers and to practice printing numbers.