Learning numerals and numbers

The difference between the words “numeral” and “number” can be a little confusing.  Actually, numbers signify the abstract concept of amounts and numerals are written representations of numbers.  But the word “number” has become synonymous with the word numeral when talking about amounts and will probably make more sense to your young child.  So I may use the word “number” when talking about the written symbol as well as the amount!

Introduce your child to numerical order (1 - 10 at first) by counting aloud at various times during the day.  Perhaps you can mark ten seconds of tooth brushing time, for instance, by counting to ten or counting aloud as you play Hide and Seek.  Children will learn numerical order by repeatedly hearing you count and then imitating what they hear.

Once children are familiar with numerical order, you can use Kindergarten math worksheets to teach them the written symbols for numbers and the amount that each number represents.  There are 40 free worksheets to print that introduce each numeral (from 1 to 10) and the corresponding amount.  The first two worksheets focus on the written symbol.  Your child can use his finger to trace the large numeral on the page and can count the pictures to help associate the numeral with amount it represents.  The third and fourth worksheets provide additional opportunities to match the numeral with the corresponding number.

In addition to the worksheets, try these games or activities that provide practice identifying amounts.

  • Ask your child to clap his hands a specific number of times and count with him as he claps.  Call out numbers at random to make the game more interesting, but keep the numbers between 1 and 5 until your child demonstrates comfort and accuracy with this game.  Then, of course, call out larger amounts.
  • Highlight a specific number for a day and emphasize that amount throughout the day.  For “Three Day” you can count out three pancakes for breakfast, three small cups of milk or juice, three cookies for a snack, provide three large beads to make a necklace, read three bedtime stories, etc.
  • Repeat counting rhymes to your child to emphasize numerical order.
  • Ask your child to help set the dinner table by counting out the correct amount of forks, spoons and napkins for the number of people in your family.
  • Emphasize the number two by asking your child to pull out pairs of shoes from your closet or hers.  Then ask her to count each shoe in the pair by touching it as she counts “one, two” for each pair of shoes.
  • Highlight the number five by placing five dot stickers (or coloring five dots) in a row on a piece of paper.  Ask your child to touch each dot with a different finger as he counts “one, two, three, four, five.”  Encourage your child to use the fingers on his dominant hand and move across the dots from left to right.  If he is right handed, he will begin touching the dots with his thumb and end with his pinky finger.  If he is left handed, encourage him to start with his pinky finger and end with his thumb.
  • Place toothpicks in small balls of clay so that they stand upright.  Then allow your child to place and stack cereal pieces shaped like Os on the toothpicks, specifying how many pieces of cereal should be on each toothpick.  You may want to add this activity to your “Number of the Day” games and direct your child to create stacks of the same amount of cereal pieces on each toothpick you provide.
  • Read counting picture books to your child.  There is a large selection at your local library.  I suggest finding books with clear pictures and numerals on each page.  Point to each picture as you count and then allow your child to point and count if she is ready.  Some recommended titles include: **Ten Black Dots by Donald Crews; **Doggies by Sandra Boynton; **Olivia Counts by Ian Falconer; **The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle; **1, 2, 3 to the Zoo by Eric Carle; **1, 2, Buckle My Shoe by Anna Grossnickle Hines; **1 2 3 by Tom Slaughter; **Mouse Count by Ellen Stoll Walsh; and **Anno’s Counting Book by Mitsumasa Anno


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