Playful Ways With Numbers

Playful ways with numbers -

Number games are a great way to practice using and manipulating numbers.  Once your kids can recognise 0-10, developing number sense is crucial for working with higher level problems later on.

Do your children have a good number sense?  Number sense develops over time and love it or loathe it instant recall of number facts is a key skill in primary school and beyond.  Mental maths is more than just instantly recalling number bonds or times tables.  Understanding how you got there and why 5×4=20 is far more important in the long term than just rote learning.

What is number sense?

Gersten and Chard  have a great definition and refer to number sense in their 2001 book as a student’s “fluidity and flexibility with numbers.”

Number sense is:

  • understanding what number symbols mean
  • understanding their relationship to each other e.g. 10 is more than 5 but 100 is more than 10.
  • the ability to expand larger numbers and put them back together in different ways e.g. 64 is 6 tens and 4 ones/units  or 60 + 4 or even 30+30 +2 +2
  • the ability to use numbers in a real-world situation, such as baking or shopping.
  • seeing connections
  • making reasonable estimations so that a wildly wrong answer can be found out.

Manipulating numbers — wooden, plastic or even flashcards is a great sensory way to reinforce learning and connects the abstract with the concrete, thus encouraging a deep understanding of the concept. Using multisensory ways are not just for literacy, the use of our senses can help all kids develop a concrete number sense and be beneficial for any child who has issues in maths.  Often kids struggle to make sense of the abstract nature of numbers.   It also develops fine motor skills and engages kids for longer especially when they are struggling.

Try these number activities with your kids.  Little and often playful learning opportunities are best.  All games can be adapted to your child’s skill level.  Starting with smaller numbers and working from there.


  • Numbers of some sort.  (wood, plastic, cardboard, flashcards) We purchased these numbers recently in a local variety store and they were very inexpensive.  we plan to paint them sometime.

The other items below are optional as sometimes we play these games verbally only— normally as time fillers.

  • Whiteboard and pen
  • Paper
  • A number square and/or number line could also be used for younger kids or kids who struggle.

Make A Number

Playful ways with numbers -

Pull 2, 3, 4 or how many numbers your kids can manage out of the pile and ask the questions like:

What is the biggest number you can make?

What is the smallest number you can make?

Can you tell me anything about the numbers?  e.g odd or even, it has a 2 in it, it has 2 tens.  It is 10 more than 1610  as in the photo etc.

Add It Or Take It Away

Playful ways with numbers -

Play the can you game… when the kids were younger we played this game when getting dressed or eating, it has now evolved as they have got older.  I play along to.  It is a friendly challenge game, so when they were 2 it was can you put your socks on by yourself, now we use it for school.  

Can you …
take away 1
add 1

take away 2, 5, 10
add 2,5,10  or any given number

As your kids develop their skills use multiplication and division also.

We play if they can’t then they ask…well show me and a person who can, imparts their knowledge in the spirit of collaboration.

Finish The Sequence

Playful ways with numbers -

Give your kids a sequence of numbers that you or they write on a piece of paper or a whiteboard.  Ask them to finish the sequence.

There are many different sequences to count

We do this for counting in 2’s, 5’s 10’s
Starting at a particular number e.g. 74, 75, 76, _ , _ .
Times table counting
Odd and even numbers

Once your kids understand the concept, you could then give them a pattern that they have to figure out, e.g.  27, 30, 34, 37, 41, _, _.  So this pattern would be add 3 then add 4.

How Many Numbers Can You Make

Playful ways with numbers -

How many different combinations of numbers can you make from 2, 3, 4, or even 5 numbers?  So picking 2 numbers makes 2 combinations e.g. if you pick a 2 and a 4 you can make 24 or 42.    Picking 3 numbers though gets more tricky as 6 combinations can be made, 4 numbers results in 24 combinations and 5 numbers in 120 combinations.  This is assuming repetition is not allowed. A quick way to work this out is to multiply the number of digits you pick eg  2 digits 1×2=2   3 digits 1x2x3 =6   4 digits 1x2x3x4=24

Expand The Number

Playful ways with numbers -

Make a number, then explore it. E.g. 342 is 3 hundreds, 4 tens and 2 ones/units.  How else could the number look?
e.g. 34 tens and 2 ones or 50+50+50+50+50+50+40+2  Exploring numbers like this develops a greater understanding of the concept of number.

Playful learning is happier learning.

Further reading on number sense and manipulatives in maths

 Have Fun xxx


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