Have you ever seen children as young as three who can count up to 100, but struggle to answer when you ask what comes after number 100. It is not uncommon that young children learn rote counting without really understanding the meaning behind the numbers. How can we help our children develop a deeper understanding of numbers? While it may not be a well-known word, the answer is subitizing! Subitizing is a term that was coined by the theorist Piaget. It is defined as the ability to “see” a small amount of objects in a group without needing to count. For example, you see two cookies on the table and you automatically know there are two cookies on the table without needing to count. There are two types of subitizing: perceptual and conceptual. Perceptual subitizing is instantly knowing how many are in a given set of 5 or less items. On the other hand, conceptual subitizing, is the ability to see sets of numbers within larger sets, such as seeing two fours in the eight of a domino. In the early years of life, subitizing plays an essential part of developing number sense. Understanding “how many” without needing to count helps children: a) count on from a known patterned set; b) combine numbers from sets; and c) develop mathematical fluency.
How to Develop Subitizing
The ability to subitize can be developed by using pattern recognition skills. By working with a small set of numbers, children can start to develop an understanding of what numbers mean and what they represent. For example, five strawberries could be a set of two strawberries and a set of three strawberries, or a set of four strawberries and one strawberry. This means that a child looking at five strawberries doesn’t only see five strawberries, but also see two and three, or maybe one and four, and five and zero strawberries. Once children are familiar and comfortable with various representations of numbers 1 to 5, larger sets can be introduced (1 to 10).
How can we use subitizing to support our children’s developing understanding of numbers?
- Start with a small set of numbers.
- Subitizing relies on visual patterns. Not all arrangements of a number are equally easy to “see.”
Activities to Build Subitizing Skills
This month, we will open the doors to the world of subitizing by introducing simple and fun DIY games that you can play with your 3 to 5 year-olds.