Number Sense

By: Kyara Markle

Are you a parent or educator who is looking for ideas on how to promote the development of math skills in your children/students? Keep reading for some useful facts, tips and activity examples!

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There is no question that mathematics is an important skill for children to learn, as it is a skill they will carry with them and utilize throughout the rest of their lives.

Keeping in mind that math is a skill used throughout life, it is important to consider how to provide meaningful math experiences for children which will set the foundation for all future math learning.

In particular, number sense is an important math concept for children to learn.

Number sense essentially refers to a student’s “fluidity and flexibility with numbers,”(

Number sense is one of five math concepts neccessary for children to learn according to the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program.

One of five necessary mathematical concepts to learn as outlined in the Full Day Early Learning Kindergarten Program.

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As children gain an understanding of number sense, they begin to gain a sense of “what numbers mean, understand their relationship to one another, are able to perform mental math, understand symbolic representations, and can use those numbers in real world situations” (

Introducing Number Sense

When introducing a new concept to children, reading a book is always a good starting point.

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Counting on Fall is a great book to introduce number sense to children as it incorporates language, information about animals and their habitats and number sense.

Reading this book to children can open up opportunity for many follow- up activities. Check this page for activity resources related to the book.

Find the book on Amazon here.

Along with introducing a new math concept through reading a book, playing a video is also a good introduction. With technological advances in society today, it is common to have a laptop and projector in each classroom. Read-aloud books can be played on the projector screen or an interactive video can be played.

From experience at my own placement, I have observed how the children of my grade 1 class love playing “Just Dance” at the end of the day on Fridays. The teacher will put the Just Dance video on the projector screen and the children will dance along. The children enjoy having time to let loose at the end of the day, interact with each other, and use physical movement.

This video could be substituted for a Just Dance video as it provides opportunity for singing and physical movement; however, it incorporates number sense and provides more of a learning experience! Math learning
can be made fun through videos like this:

A strong sense of number and the quantity it represents is an integral part of all areas of life affecting successful functioning on the job, in school, at home, and in the community (Stood & Mackey, 2014, p. 1).

It is no secret that number sense is an important concept for children to gain a solid understanding of.

An important question to ask oneself is: what is the best way to teach number sense?

Two approaches to teaching that are important to understand are Instructivist and Constructivist approaches.

Research on both approaches has found that children’s learning and development of number sense is best supported through providing a constructivist approach to teaching. Research found that when games are used along with activities that support children’s natural interests about counting and numbers, greater strides in their learning are found (Baroody and Wilikins, 1999, p. 15-16).

Being Engaged in Children’s Learning

There is a difference between being engaged and being  involved in children’s learning.

Being engaged in children’s learning refers to making a moral commitment. Engagement empowers families as they become active participants in the learning journey.

Providing children with meaningful learning opportunities will promote and encourage future enjoyment and engagement in math.

As an aid to teaching, it is important for educators and parents to hold a variety of resources that can support them as facilitators of children’s learning.

Get Ready to Read is a website that includes a math section. This section includes a page on Understanding Numbers and Counting Skills which can be a great resource to parents and educators.


Blogs are also great resources as they provide useful tips, information, and connections to new sources of information on a given topic.

Kindergarten is Crazy (fun)  is a blog which provides information on number sense and examples of activities to conduct with children that support the development of number sense.

Pinterest contains a multitude of examples of creative activities relating to number sense that can be implemented with children. Specifically, the “number sense” pins provide useful ideas for activities.

Kid’s Math Teacher is a blog that provides examples of math activities. There are links to many different activities, here is an activity relating to number sense: counting and sorting objects.

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Talking Math with Your Kids is a blog with stories from educators and examples of activities.

Something I especially liked on this blog was how it bluntly said, “don’t do this”, followed by a picture of a math work sheet and under it said ,”do this”, followed by a picture of a parent actively counting objects with a child. Just a few words and two pictures can send a strong message!

Meaningful Activities

Allowing and supporting children to be active participants in their learning is integral to their success, especially in terms of learning math concepts.

Here are some examples of activities relating to number sense that I implemented with my class:

Number Line Cards


I created large cards that had numbers 1-20 on them. One set had the numbers in number words and the other set had the numbers as numerals.

Children were able to engage with these cards in a variety of ways. For example, I played a matching game with the children where I had them find the person who had their matching card (ex: person with the “2” card had to find the person with the “two” card). Once the children found their matches, I had them form a jumbo number line using their bodies and their cards.

Different Ways to Represent Numbers


This activity provided children with an opportunity to explore and become familiar with the different ways to represent numbers. I provided children with cards ranging from 1-20, all representing numbers in a variety of ways (for example, tallies, pictures, tenframes, numbers, and number words). Children connected the cards and formed their number line in different ways.

Some children formed their number line in a straight line, some formed it in a twirly line.

Math Invitation

Invitations to learning are not always present in classroom and home learning experiences; however, I believe they provide wonderful learning opportunities!

An invitation consists of a variety of materials relating to a certain content of knowledge or theme. An invitation provides open-ended learning opportunities where children can actively explore and become active participants in their learning.

Here is an example of a math invitation I created with my classmates that focused on number sense:

A variety of materials were provided that invited children to explore the math concept of number sense. Through this exploration, opportunity for learning of math concepts such as patterning and geometry were also present! With an invitation, learning is never limited to one certain concept or body of knowledge.

Letters were provided to encourage children to investigate how many letters are in their name.

There are no “right” or “wrong” answers in the active exploration of materials in this math invitation. Cards with prompts were used, such as “How many letters are in your name?”, “How old are you?”, “Can you make a number line?” and “Try drawing numbers in the sand”. However, these were mere suggestions and are just used as a means of encouraging children to engage in higher order thinking as they explore the materials.

Although the prompt said, “Try drawing numbers in the sand!”, this picture demonstrates how numbers were drawn in the sand with little tree branches and rocks!

Marbles were used to match with felt number squares.

Cups were provided to promote children’s exploration of volume.

The invitation included elements of the natural world, such as leaves, branches and rocks. Incorporating aspects of the natural world is important to children’s learning as it supports environmental inquiry and natural curiosity.


Effective mathematics learning and teaching incorporates many aspects, as demonstrated in the above image taken at the school I volunteer at. The environment is part of this effective learning and teaching.

Play Games and have Fun with Math Learning!

Research demonstrates that playing games is beneficial to children’s development of number sense. In Laura Porter’s article From Number Rhymes to Number Sense, she gives examples of meaningful games to play with children that enhance their development of number sense.

“Immersing young children in math rhymes and chants, counting activities, and matching numerals to quantities are all excellent ways to develop children’s mathematical thinking. Games and activities that have a child look at a set of objects or dots and then require the child to identify the total in the set help build subitizing skills” (Porter, p. 2).

For ideas on games to play with children to help promote their concept of number sense, the book Number Sense and Nonsense is a great resource.

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This book contains over 80 math games and activities that help children think critically about math rather than just focusing on memorization.

Summing’ it up

In conclusion, developing a strong understanding of number sense is imperative for children’s future mathematical learning. Taking a constructivist approach to teaching number sense allows children to actively construct knowledge as they become active participants in their learning and are able to actively explore the world around them. As an educator or parent, it is important to have a variety of resources in order to add to one’s toolbox of knowledge as to best support children’s learning. Open- ended activities, such as invitations, are great opportunities to expand children’s learning.

As an educator myself, I believe learning is a continual process between both educator and child. I am constantly looking for new resources to support my own learning so that I may better support children’s learning and I hope this blog can be a support for you!



Clements, D. (1999). Mathematics for Young Children.

Curtis, D. (2004). Creating Invitations for Learning. Child Care Information Exchange.

Early Math. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Environment Inquiry. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ferlazzo, L. (n.d.). Parent Involvement or Parent Engagement? Retrieved from

Heick, T. (n.d.). The Difference Between Instructivism, Constructivism, And Connectivism. Retrieved from

Kids Math Teacher; (n.d.). Retrieved from

Kindergarten is Crazy (fun). (n.d.). Retrieved from

Mclennan, D. (n.d.). Making Math Meaningful. Retrieved from

Porter, L. (n.d.). From Number Rhymes to Number Sense. Focus on Family.

Stood, S., & Mackey, M. (2014). Number Sense Instruction: A Comprehensive Literature Review. World Journal of Education, 4(5).

Talking Math with Your Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Understanding Number Sense. (n.d.). Retrieved from

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2011). The full-day early learning-kindergarten program. Toronto: Queen’s Printer. Retrieved from



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