Your guide to subitizing for preschool and kindergarten students. Consider this your “subitizing 101” class. We’ll teach you what it is, how to teach it, and several different ways to help your students practice. It’s the last step on a child’s road to number sense!
Ah, subitizing. What exactly are you? Allow me to take any mystery or anxiety out of this fancy math term.
Simply put – subitizing is the ability to recognize “how many” in a set without counting individually. It’s the ability to know the number by “sight”. The term is actually derived from the Latin word meaning “suddenly.” It’s appropriately named, as it refers to the ability to see numbers of objects instantly.
We use subitizing to help children recognize number patterns or number groups. Those number patterns/groups are critical as students work their way up the math ladder. When we teach children to begin using patterns as they count and add/take away manipulatives, it allows their mind’s eye to see the pattern! This helps them be more efficient math thinkers.
Being strategic with numbers is something that can be developed early on with toddlers, preschoolers, and kindergartners. It’s vital that young kids have several, varied hands-on experiences with manipulatives and numbers in authentic ways. Children who have strong number sense have less anxiety about math and take more risks. Recent research has shown that a solid foundation in math when entering kindergarten is actually the best predictor of future academic success. It’s even more helpful than reading and attention skills!
Kids with solid number sense learn that grouping numbers together helps us determine the total, and it’s an introduction to addition! This fun way of learning math sets up our little learners for success in beginning addition and subtraction. It even helps with learning doubles facts (2+2, 3+3, etc.) and doubles plus one/minus one (2+3, 3+4, 4+3, etc.). They’ll encounter these facts as they move into first and second grade.
Related: Space-Themed Number Writing Practice
Stages of Math Development in Preschool
There are 10 different stages of math development that students will transition through on their mathematical journey through preschool and beyond. Some of these skills include rote counting, one-to-one correspondence, cardinality, and conservation of number (recognizing that no matter how I arrange these counters, there are still only four). Subitizing is one of the last skills along the journey as it requires students to have basic number sense solidified.
Related: The Ultimate Guide to Number Sense
Now that we know exactly what subitizing is, how it’s helpful for young children, and its place on the mathematical journey, let’s learn more about how to subitize with preschoolers!
Subitizing Ideas for Preschoolers
Subitizing cards are a great way to help children see numbers and learn what they are without counting! Start with objects that are in a line, then move on to other formations. I teach with subitizing cards by showing them small numbers at first. Show it to them long enough to see it, but make sure they’re not counting the objects. If they feel like they can’t do it, either use your fingers with the same amount or use a smaller number.
Our subitizing cards have a cool feature that makes them self-checking. After children have been introduced to and practiced working on subitizing cards, they are ready to work on them with a friend or independently. They can easily do this! Just fold the cards so that the number isn’t showing. Then, after they have decided the amount, they can unfold the card to double check their answer.
Subitizing Videos for Preschoolers
One of our favorite children’s musicians, Jack Hartmann, has an awesome series of subitizing videos. They are short breaks that are exciting, fast-paced, and beloved by preschoolers! With so many varieties, your preschoolers will become subitizing masters. Plus, it’s an easy tool to share with families so students can practice at home too!
Subitizing with Five or Ten Frames for Preschoolers
Using ten frame mats are an ideal way to help your preschoolers quickly identify quantity without counting. This will definitely take some practice, but starting out with five frame cards is a great way to introduce subitizing. A preschool favorite is to use ten frames by playing a “quick look” game and giving them just a few seconds to identify how many are filled in on the frame.
Of course, we might not expect preschoolers to count out 10 counters by placing them in two perfect rows of 5. However, when we expose them to this way of counting it gives them the background to start seeing it that way. It’s a great way to encourage smart math strategies from an early age. It’s never too early to learn about being strategic with numbers!
Subitizing with Fingers for Preschoolers
Subitizing with fingers encourages our preschoolers to learn how to mentally represent a value on their fingers. They can then recognize that same finger pattern on others. Additionally, it helps students later learn how to count on from a number.
Counting with fingers has often been viewed as a poor strategy. But young children need that concrete learning foundation to solidify number sense! According to Stanford professor, Jo Boaler, “Discouraging students from using their fingers to count is essentially a way of halting their mathematical development.”
Subitizing with Tally Marks for Preschoolers
Tally marks can be tricky! But teaching tally marks in preschool can be fun and easy with this simple trick.
Teach students that there are four tally marks in a row, like their fingers. Then show that the 5th one, their thumb, crosses it to make a group of five!
Prior to subitizing with tally marks, practice using tally marks frequently and encourage students to survey/graph other students using tally marks.
Subitizing is so fun! Kids feel an enormous sense of success when they are able to quickly determine a number. We hope that we have made this important math skill a bit easier to plan, and most of all, made it fun and interactive!
For more hands-on math practice, grab these seasonal counting cards from our store! Use these math counting cards to teach children counting, number recognition, one to one correspondence, and quantity. They work like magic for small group math activities or for one on one instruction along with your favorite counters such as mini erasers, gems, acrylics, buttons, or any other object.