There are many number recognition games and activities to help children with this very basic but essential building block for all later math skills. The best ways to introduce numbers to kids is with language and play. With a good preschool understanding of numbers, children will have a solid foundation on which to build more advanced math concepts.
Start with the number recognition games and activities described below before moving on to the counting games for preschoolers or kindergarten-age children.
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Some children can count and even recognize several numbers before they even understand that there is a one-to-one relationship with counting. That is, that each successive number refers to one more item added to a group.
For very young children counting to ten is no different than a rhyme or a song. It is a bunch of words all strung together in a sentence which may or may not have meaning for them. Children eventually get to an age however that they understand the one-to-one relationship with numbers. At that point real counting can begin. The age that this happens varies from child to child depending on their own development. You could practice counting objects with a young child for weeks or months and then one day they would suddenly "get it". Chances are they may have "got it" at the same age without the practicing! That is to say that understanding this one-to-one relationship is largely a developmental milestone.
But to give your children the best start with math concepts, it is very helpful to use numbers naturally in everyday language with your children. Saying things like, "You need two socks, here's one, here's the other," as they get dressed. Or, "Look, there are two fire trucks on the street!" By speaking this way with your children in a natural way, the simple building blocks for later math concepts will be a part of their everyday language and understanding.
If you're splitting a snack with your child say, "Let's split it in half." Or, "Would you like half a glass of water or a full glass?" To them it is simply language not math. By the time they are three or four they will have a good idea about what half means. If you have more than one child and are splitting something three or four ways, use the words "a third" or "a quarter".
It may seem odd to speak to a young child this way but in the same way that a child acquires language and can learn quite long or complicated words at a young age if these words are regularly used in everyday conversation, they can understand the concept of fractions in a very simple way. Much later they'll hear they're going to be studying fractions, wonder what that is and then quickly realize they already have a basic understanding of fractions.
For the youngest kids, learning number recognition through play with stories is lots of fun. Use sand or playdough to help children draw or shape numbers while telling a story (example below).
If you don't have easy access to a sand box, beach or sand table, you can draw in almost anythinggrains of rice on a cookie sheet even.
Start with the number one. You can do this number recognition activity while telling a story.
Tell a story about a cat that lived at "1 Maple Street" who was having a party for all his friends. But he needed a way for his friends to find his house. The cat gets the idea that he'll put a sign out on the front of his house with the number one on it. Write a one in the sand to show your child how the cat made the one sign for his friends to find him.
Then say that it started to rain and the rain washed away the paint on his sign. Wipe the one away from the sand. Explain that the cat got some waterproof paint to write the one again but was all flustered because he hadn't set out snacks for his friends yet and they'd be coming soon. Then ask your child to help the cat make the sign again by writing a one in the sand. Continue the story with the friends all arriving, seeing the sign, reading it and knowing right away that they are at the right place.
Of course you can substitute any of your own stories here. The idea is to first demonstrate and then have the child make the number themselves. Luckily, one is the easiest number so success with it will be quick. Don't be at all concerned about the squiggly nature of your child's one. The idea is to familiarize the child with the concept that we can represent a number with a drawing. Afterwards you can point out numbers on houses and buildings and tell your child that those are the house numbers so people can find their friends.
Use playdough also for number recognition activities. Again you can tell stories or can simply say, "Let's make a number."
Once you've introduced the first few numbers through activities with sand or other materials you can start playing number recognition games which involve a single die with your children.
Children's toy stores often sell large dice and even dice with numbers rather than just dots. Both are useful. You can also easily make you own using our free printables. Click on any of the files below for printer-ready large-size number dice with instructions on how to fold and glue the dice. Once you have your dice, scroll down for games to use them with.
All of the dice below have a line under the number indicating the bottom of the number. Initially have your child always rotate the die so that they are looking at the number right side up.
One of my simplest preschool numbers games requires any of the above dice and a box of blocks or anything you can make a tower or structure with. Pick the game die that has the numbers your preschooler is learning. For the youngest children start with the game die which only has 1s and 2s on it.
Take turns rolling the die and then adding the number of blocks shown on the die to the tower. You can work cooperatively to try and build the highest tower possible.
Use our free printable snakes and ladders game along with one of the printable dice available above (or use your own). If your child is very young and just learning to recognize numbers, start with the game die with just 1s and 2s. By the end of a few games of snakes and ladders they'll be ready to use the die with 1s, 2s and 3s.
This version of snakes and ladders is very simple with just a red arrow to follow to find your direction. You can work as a team or play against one another. Use any handy objects or small toys as game tokens.
Start at the "Start" arrow and roll the die. Advance the number of squares shown on the die by following the red arrows. If you land on a star, you get another turn. If you land on a ladder, climb the ladder to the square at its top. If you land on a snake, slide down the snake to the square at its bottom.
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