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Activities Families Can Do to Develop Number Sense

What is Number Sense?1 Most mathematics educators agree that developing number sense is important, yet there is no single definition that is unanimously accepted. Number sense is highly personalized and thought to develop gradually. It includes self-regulation, an ability to make connections in number patterns, and an intuition regarding numbers. Number sense "refers to a person's general understanding of number and operations along with the ability and inclination to use this understanding in flexible ways to make mathematical judgments and to develop useful strategies for handling numbers and operations. Since number sense develops slowly over time, frequent and varied experiences with numbers are critical for childrens development. Board games and card games are some of the easiest ways parents can provide excellent opportunities to develop number sense while also enabling families to have fun together. Games like Chutes & Ladders, Shut the Box, Sorry!, Dominoes, Trouble, War, solitaire, etc., promote the development of counting skills, understandings of patterns, numeral recognition, informal practice with addition, and encourage kids to think flexibly about numbers (to name just a few benefits!). Below are a few other suggestions for ways to help your child build his/her number sense: Estimate, Then Count Estimation skills develop over time. Engage your child in a variety of estimating challenges. Keep the focus on close enough, rather than exact. Keep the number of objects within a range of numbers your child is familiar with. (For many new first graders, within the range of 10-30 is appropriate). For larger amounts, you might have your child count a small sampling (5 or 10) of the collection, then try to imagine groups of 5s or 10s to estimate. Estimating challenges might include: How many M&Ms in a bag? How many Cheerios are left in the box? How many steps to the car? How many cherries are in the bag? How many cups of water to fill the bowl? How many days until _______? How many people in the store? How many cookies will fit in the container? How many cars are in the parking lot? How many seconds will it take to run around the house?
After you both make your best guess, count them. If counting objects, try counting them by ones first, then by twos, fives, or tens! Its helpful for kids to see that the way the objects are counted doesnt change how many in all.

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Guess My Number Write or think of a number your child must guess. Have your child guess a number, say between 0 and 50. If the guess is not correct, say higher or lower until the correct number is guessed. Then switch roles with your child.

Join Sets Provide opportunities for your child to combine groups of objects. For example, We had 4 eggs left in the carton and Dad brought home another carton. How many do we have now?, or We have 2 bagels left. If we buy another bag of 6, how many will we have?

Counting Steps Take a short walk, taking time to both look at an object up ahead a short distance, then telling how many steps you think it might be to walk to the object (walking steps, not measuring steps). Then count the steps as you walk to the object!

Bake Together Its not too early to expose your child to fractionsespecially through measurement when baking. Involve your child in making cookies, having him/her measure the ingredients (with your supervision, of course!). Imagine together how many cookies you might make from the cookie dough, then see how close you were to your estimates! (Check in on your estimates from time to time as you are making them: Hm! I guess we could make 20 cookies but weve already make 18 and we have lots left! Im thinking now that maybe we can make 30 cookies!)

Build Together Whole numbers and fractions show up everywhere when building things. Involve your child in a simple building project (wood, material, paper, etc.). Remember to estimate, first! You might even throw in an estimate of time: I wonder how long it will take us to make this bird house? 5 minutes? 5 hours? 5 days?

Got 10? Create a challenge next time you and your child are out and about. See how many things you can find that have 10 (or 5, for less challenge, or any number in between). Make a list of the things you found that had 10 (e.g., 10 letters in the sign that says, Men Working). How many can you find in one day? Focusing on a particular number helps the child gain a sense of quantity, rather than just the symbol for the number.

More Activities to Help Your Child Develop Number Sense

(Activities taken from Mathematics a Guide for Parents to Everyday Mathematics and Helping Your Child at Home Grades K-6, published by Central Kitsap School District Department of Curriculum and Instruction, 2000.)

Count Objects Encourage your child to count pieces of fruit, cans of vegetables, stair steps, or kitchen utensils. Provide counters, such as paper clips or dried beans, and ask your child to count out specific amounts First and second grade students can make groups of ones and tens to match place value names. For example, three sets of ten items and five single items are called "3 tens, 5 ones," and represent 35.

Subtract from 100 To play this game, you need one die, paper and pencil for each player. Write 100 at the top of your paper. Throw the die and subtract the amount from 100. In turn, throw the die and continue subtracting. The first person to get to zero wins the game. For young children, start with 50. For addition practice, reverse the process. The first person to reach 100 wins the game. Card Games Card games such as "War" and "Go Fish" help children learn place value. You can show younger children how to figure out the value of the cards by counting the objects on the card Skip Count Count with your child by 2's, 5's, and 10's. Challenge your child to count by tens in patterns, such as 4, 14, 24, 34, etc Pairs of 10 This game is for those learning to add. Cut out 20 small squares of paper and ask your child to write the digits 0 through 9 (two sets) on the squares. Turn the squares face down, mix them up, and put the scattered pile between you. In turn, pick up one square at a time, turn it over and keep it. Each time two numbers have a sum of 10, remove the pair from your pile and score a point. The game is over when all squares have been picked. The person with the most pairs wins the round. After a couple of rounds, your child will notice that nothing can be paired with 0. "Take Away" Items To reinforce the concept of subtraction, encourage your child to notice how many items are left or how many were taken away. If you have seven jars, give your child two to put away and ask, "How many more are left to be put away?"

Finger Play Take turns being the caller. The caller calls out a number between 4 and 10, then both of you show that number of fingers behind your backs. On the count of three, both show the fingers you used. If the patterns match, the caller gets a point. If they are different, the other person gets a point. First to 10 points wins the game.

More? How Many More? While at the store waiting in line, ask your child which line has more people? Which has fewer? How many more? How many less? You may need to help your child determine how many more. If so, show them how you would figure it out (e.g., I know both lines have 3 people, but that one has 2 MORE people.)
compiled by Kathy Schaw, Math Interventionist, Williston School District, Williston, Vermont (rev. 06/07/11)