Welcome to an exploration of the fundamental pillars that underpin mathematical understanding – the realm of pre-number concepts. Before the formalities of counting and arithmetic take center stage, these concepts play a crucial role in preparing young minds for the world of numbers and mathematical reasoning.
The significance of pre-number concepts lies in their ability to develop a child’s mathematical thinking and problem-solving abilities. They nurture the development of spatial reasoning, logical deduction, and quantitative reasoning skills, which are essential for mathematical success.
So, let us delve into the intricate world of pre-number concepts, where observation, exploration, and reasoning converge to shape young minds and lay the groundwork for their mathematical journey. Together, we will unravel the significance of these concepts and unlock the door to a world of numerical fluency and mathematical brilliance.
Pre-number concept – Basics
From manipulatives to various games, a number of methods can help kids with numbers and counting. However, introducing the little ones to pre-numbers can help them retain the concept better. Pre-number concepts refer to a child’s understanding and use of mathematical ideas and skills before they are formally introduced to numbers. Pre-number concepts are an important foundation for later mathematical learning. They can include:
- Understanding of quantity: Children can understand that a group of two objects is different from a group of three objects, even if they can’t yet count the objects.
- Understanding of size: Children can understand that a big object is different from a small object, even if they can’t yet compare sizes using numbers.
- Understanding of measurement: Children can understand that a long rope is different from a short rope, even if they can’t yet measure the length using numbers.
- Counting: Children can begin to understand that each object in a group can be counted one at a time, even if they can’t yet count higher than a few objects.
- Basic mathematical relationships: Children can begin to understand simple mathematical relationships, such as more and less, even if they can’t yet use numbers to compare quantities.
Children who develop strong pre-number concepts are better prepared to learn formal mathematics when they are introduced to numbers.
Exploring mathematical foundations: Pre-number concept activities
Pre-number concepts are a crucial step in mathematical development, they are not the end goal. Below are some pre-number concepts and activities that can be suitable for all young learners.
1. Matching and Pairing
In this activity, we’ll explore how to recognize similarities and differences between objects. Matching and pairing activities help children develop their ability to recognize similarities and differences between objects. By focusing on attributes such as color, shape, pattern, or other distinguishing features, children start to understand how objects can be grouped together based on their similarities
By engaging in this fun and interactive exercise, children will develop their ability to make connections and lay the foundation for understanding numbers and sets.
- Begin by gathering the set of picture cards or objects. Ensure that each card or object has a matching pair. For example, if using picture cards, make sure there are two cards with the same image.
- Shuffle the cards or mix up the objects to create a playful challenge.
- Explain to the child that the objective is to find and match the pairs based on their similarities. Emphasize that they should pay attention to attributes such as color, shape, pattern, or any other distinguishing features.
- Start the activity by asking the child to pick two cards or objects and determine if they are a match. Encourage them to explain why they think the items are a pair, focusing on the similarities they observe.
- If the child finds a match, celebrate their success! Take a moment to discuss the similarities between the objects and reinforce their ability to identify connections.
- If the child does not find a match, guide them through the process of comparing the attributes of the objects. Encourage them to observe closely and look for similarities that could indicate a match.
- Continue the activity by repeating steps 4-6, allowing the child to explore and discover more matching pairs. As they become more comfortable, gradually increase the number of cards or objects to make the activity more challenging.
2. Shape Sorting
Toddlers are often good at identifying big shapes and hence, shape sorting is a pre-number concept activity. It helps children develop shape recognition and categorization skills. So, here’s how to do it:
- You will need a collection of shapes, such as felt pieces or blocks, in different shapes, such as circles, squares, triangles, and rectangles.
- Show the shapes to the children and name each shape. Have them repeat the name and trace the shape with their finger.
- Spread out the shapes on a table or floor and have the children sort the shapes into piles based on their shape. For example, all circles are in one pile, and all squares are in another pile.
- Label each pile with the name of the shape. You can use index cards, and post-its, or simply write the names directly on the table.
- Ask the children to explain why they put each shape in a particular pile and encourage them to describe the unique characteristics of each shape.
Sorting and classifying activities help children develop their visual and spatial awareness, as well as their ability to categorize objects based on their characteristics.
3. Colour Recognition
Around the age of 4-5, children know their favorite colors and are able to respond to different colors differently. Hence, color recognition activities are a must-try pre-number activity. It assists children in developing their ability to identify and differentiate colors. Here’s how to do it:
- Present the child with a collection of objects in different colors, such as crayons, blocks, or toys.
- Show the objects to the children and name each color. Have them repeat the name and point to objects of that color.
- Use a table or floor to spread the objects and have the children sort the objects into piles based on their color. For example, all red objects are in one pile, and all blue objects are in another pile.
- Label each pile with the name of the color. You can use index cards, and Post-its, or simply write the names directly on the table.
- Ask the children to explain why they put each object in a particular pile and encourage them to describe the unique characteristics of each color.
This activity helps children develop their visual and spatial awareness, as well as their ability to categorize objects based on their characteristics. By recognizing colors, children lay the foundation for more complex mathematical concepts, such as patterns and sorting.
4. Length Measuring
Young children would often want a big glass of cold drink but a small glass of milk. This indicates that there is a form of understanding about length and heights. Thus, length measuring can be a pre-number activity that would further help children develop an understanding of size and measurement. Here’s how to do it:
- Grab a collection of objects of different sizes, such as toy cars, blocks, or sticks, and a collection of non-standard units of measurement, such as paper clips, blocks, or unifix cubes.
- Show the children how to use the non-standard units to measure the length of different objects.
- Have the children measure the length of each object using the non-standard units, and compare the lengths of different objects. For example, they might determine that one toy car is longer than another, or one glass is taller than the other.
- Encourage estimation: Have the children estimate the length of an object before measuring it to reinforce estimation skills.
This activity helps children develop their visual and spatial awareness, as well as their ability to understand size and measurement. By using non-standard units, children learn the basic concepts of measurement without having to deal with more complex units of measurement, such as inches or centimeters. Parents and educators can look for more such creative measurement activities for their little learners.
5. Shadow Matching
Shadows are fascinating to kids of all ages and sometimes they are able to recognize during which time of the day, a shadow would be shortest or tallest. However, shadow matching goes beyond one’s height and is a pre-number activity that helps children develop their understanding of light and shadow. Here’s how to do it:
- For this activity, you will need objects that cast shadows, such as blocks, toys, or paper cutouts, and a light source, such as a lamp, torch, or the sun.
- Place the objects in a location where they will cast shadows, such as near a window or under a lamp.
- Have the children observe the shadows cast by the objects and compare their size and shape. Encourage them to describe the unique characteristics of each shadow.
This activity helps children develop their visual and spatial awareness, as well as their ability to understand the relationship between light and shadow. By matching objects with their shadows, children learn to recognize and compare the unique characteristics of each shadow. This activity also lays the foundation for more complex scientific concepts, such as reflection and refraction.
Classification comes naturally to kids when they come to a certain age. They learn to identify a dog and a cat, a shoe and a toy, and the list is neverending. Classification is a pre-number activity that helps children develop their ability to categorize and organize objects based on their characteristics. Here’s how to do it:
- Assemble a collection of objects of different types, such as toys, fruit, or leaves.
- Let the children observe the collection of objects and explain that they will be sorting the objects into different categories based on their characteristics.
- Ask the children to sort the objects into different categories. For example, they might sort toys into categories based on their type (e.g. cars, dolls, or animals) or fruit into categories based on their color, taste, or shape.
- Label each category with a name or description that represents its contents. You can use index cards, and Post-its, or simply write the names directly on the table.
- Ask the children to explain why they put each object in a particular category and encourage them to describe the unique characteristics of each category. For instance, ask them why they put oranges and strawberries in the sour category and bananas in the sweet category.
By classifying objects, children lay the foundation for more complex mathematical concepts, such as patterns, sorting, and grouping.
7. Pattern Making
Often girls go for floral patterns, while boys go for more abstract patterns. Hence, there is a form of pattern understanding in children despite the gender differences. Pattern-making is a pre-number activity that helps children develop their ability to recognize and create patterns. Here’s how to do it:
- This activity demands objects such as blocks, beads, or pieces of paper, and a surface for creating patterns, such as a table or floor.
- Show the children examples of simple patterns, such as dots, flowers, cubes, stars, etc, and explain that they will be making their own patterns using the objects.
- Have the children create patterns using the objects, starting with simple patterns and gradually increasing the complexity as they become more comfortable with the activity.
- Encourage the children to experiment with different patterns and to use different combinations of objects, for instance, a toothpick or pencil to create texture on a clay dough.
By making patterns, children learn more complex mathematical concepts, such as sequencing, symmetry, and problem-solving.
8. Manipulative Play
Children in their infant months start engaging in manipulative play. Manipulative play provides children with the chance to manipulate objects in space, which is crucial for their spatial awareness. As they build structures or create patterns using blocks or puzzles, they begin to understand concepts like size, shape, and position
Hence, during the kindergarten years manipulative play can be an effective pre-number activity to help children develop their fine motor skills and their ability to manipulate objects in space.
Here’s how to do it:
- You will need a collection of manipulatives, such as blocks, toys, or puzzles.
- Give the children the manipulatives and encourage them to explore and manipulate the objects in any way they like. For instance, ask them to create or replicate a figure using blocks.
- Observe the children as they play and offer support and guidance as needed. Encourage them to describe what they are doing and to explain their thought processes.
This activity helps children develop their fine motor skills and their ability to manipulate objects in space. Additionally, manipulative play helps children develop their hand-eye coordination and their ability to control small objects, which are important skills for writing and other fine motor tasks.
In conclusion, pre-number concept activities are an important step in helping children develop their mathematical understanding. Pre-number concepts serve as the building blocks upon which mathematical understanding is constructed. They encompass a range of skills and cognitive processes that lay the groundwork for later mathematical fluency. These concepts ignite curiosity, promote critical thinking, and cultivate logical reasoning skills.
They encourage children to make connections, analyze relationships, and draw conclusions based on observed patterns and properties. Through sorting, classifying, comparing, and ordering objects, children develop foundational skills that form the basis for more complex mathematical concepts. Engaging children in hands-on activities and other number sense activities, encouraging them to practice counting out loud can help them build a strong foundation for future mathematical learning.
An engineer, Maths expert, Online Tutor and animal rights activist. In more than 5+ years of my online teaching experience, I closely worked with many students struggling with dyscalculia and dyslexia. With the years passing, I learned that not much effort being put into the awareness of this learning disorder. Students with dyscalculia often misunderstood for having just a simple math fear. This is still an underresearched and understudied subject. I am also the founder of Smartynote -‘The notepad app for dyslexia’,