Number Sense : The Foundation of Math

First and foremost it must be stated that number sense is not simply counting. It is very exciting when your young child can count to 10, and this article is not aiming to make that fun, exciting milestone seem less important; however, number sense is more than simply counting from memory.

What is number sense?

When a child has number sense it essentially means three things.

1. They understand that a number represents a quantity.

2. They realize that number names spoken out loud and the written symbol all mean the same quantity.

3. They are capable of understanding that the quantities represented by number symbols are related to one another which is why we can use numbers to put specific objects in order or count the number of objects in a set. For example, a child would realize that 8 is more than 2 or 4 is less than 6.

Why is number sense important?

1. According to a study by Case, Griffen, and Sigeler (1994), young children who have developed number sense succeed in math while kids with an under-developed number sense are at a high risk of falling behind.

2. How can we expect them to understand that 4 + 3 = 7 if they have no underlying foundation of number sense? Sure, they may be able to memorize math facts, but what happens when they are given a new problem that they haven’t yet memorized? Without the basic number sense knowledge they would have no way to figure out that 4 represents four objects and 3 represents three objects which can then be counted in total to come to the answer seven.

Is number sense innate, or can it be taught?

Studies show that number sense can absolutely without a doubt be taught to children (Case, Griffen, Sigeler, 1994) which is great news for parents and teachers. It is important to note that number sense doesn’t develop by accident. Puzzles and math songs while fun and engaging (and important for other reasons) do not teach number sense. You must teach your child about number sense through explicit instruction and modeling.

When we teach kids to read we do not simply teach them the letter names and expect them to know how to read; the same principle is true in math. We cannot teach our kids numbers names and expect them to develop number sense on their own. Number sense can be taught through instruction, modeling, and play-based activities.

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