a dozen activities to develop early number concepts

Exposure to numbers doesn't have to be formal and serious.  Even silly experiences can be full of learning!

Exposure to numbers doesn’t have to be formal and serious. Even silly experiences can be full of learning!

Learning about numbers is one of those foundational concepts, necessary for understanding so much about the world.  For this reason, we diligent parents are eager to ensure that our tykes are on-track for numeracy skills from the very start.  These ideas, for the crowd that isn’t quite ready to write numbers or study formal math, will build a foundation for later success–without the need for any formality or structure.

  1. Make counting a regular part of your life, from how many baby carrots your child wants for lunch to how many strokes it takes to mix your brownie batter. The more opportunities you take for counting (within reason, of course!) the more familiar your child becomes with numbers and their order.
  2. Master the “concept” of number. Talk about how many cups you’ve stacked, how many blocks are in a line. Help your child develop a mental image for each number—especially for 1-5.
  3. Compare groups of items. Line up all your red Hot Wheels and park the black ones in a row beneath them. Decide which group has more, and how many more there are.
  4. Have fun with simple word problems. “Look, you have five grapes left! How many will you have after you eat another one?” In this way, your children will learn that numbers and math help them to describe and understand their world.
  5. As your child ages, “their” number is infinitely special to them. On each child’s birthday, I make a sign saying, “[Kid] is [#] today! Happy birthday!” This sign starts prominently displayed in the kitchen, but after a week or so it moves to their bedroom, where it hangs all year. If nothing else, my kids master recognition of one number each year!
  6. Point out numbers in your child’s world. Count down that last minute on the timer until the cookies are done, talk about the price of items you’re buying at the store (as you point to the numbers on the price tag), inspect the page numbers of the books you read. Start to nurture familiarity with the written symbols we use for numbers.
  7. Post a number line or 100 chart for your child to ponder. Show them how it’s organized, and refer to it when numbers or comparisons arise. They may love to count while pointing to each number—but if they don’t, that’s fine, too!
  8. Combine an understanding of number order with some fine motor work: get simple dot-to-dot pages for your child to complete!
  9. When they’re interested, play a matching game. Place groups of objects on the floor, a different number of each. Give your child a set of number cards (marker on a blank index card or bit of scrap paper works great), and help them match each number to its corresponding group of objects.
  10. Here’s another matching game: Place the number cards on the floor, and see if your child can create an appropriate group of objects for each card.
  11. Using Uno cards or homemade number cards, have your child try to put the numbers in order. Be sure to reinforce the left-to-right order they’ll use for reading!
  12. Read fun number books. A search of your library’s catalog is sure to turn up at least a handful of colorful or silly counting books.


Peatie is just slightly eager for his seventh birthday.  He’s been counting down for months now, taking the time every week or so to re-figure how many days he has yet to wait.  When he recently figured out that he had a mere 68 days left to wait, he exclaimed, “It’s getting really close now!”  After a moment of reflection, he added, “You know, Mommy, it’s a little like driving toward a stoplight.”  I looked at him blankly, having absolutely no idea where he was going with this analogy.  Seeing my raised eyebrows, he continued, “You know–when you’re far away from the stoplight you go really fast, but the closer you get the slower you go.”  Huh.  I’d never thought of it that way, but I think he hit the nail on the head as far as anticipation is concerned.

I, on the other hand, am past my anticipation phase.  I agonized all summer long, eager for sign-ups and then starting dates for all our fall activities, restless from too much free time and too much time in the house (which resulted in too much bickering and too much whining and–on my part–too much frustration).  And now here I am, only two weeks in, feeling utterly depleted, and already looking forward to Christmas break, the next major stoplight of my life.

Isn’t that the way of life, though?  We anticipate the next big thing, we impatiently count down increasingly slow-seeming days until our target…and then it arrives, and somehow it’s rarely as glorious as we anticipated.  And what do we do?  Assure ourselves that the NEXT big thing will surely bring the ideal for which we’ve been waiting.

So, in the spirit of living in the moment and celebrating what IS–basking at the stoplight, as it were–here are some things I cherished today:

  • My newly-painted bathroom, finally devoid of its 18-year-old original wallpaper (installed directly on the drywall) and looking more “me”–stripped, textured, and painted thanks to many hours of labor from my amazing mom.
  • My three-year-old’s delight in learning, from gleefully assembling word puzzles to begging for some math work to soberly working to draw letters on his whiteboard–all initiated by him, all satisfying to his little soul.
  • Our beloved read-aloud during morning snack time, something we all look forward to and feel compelled to do on every weekday, even if we’re technically taking a vacation day.  I love how much the kids love this, and I love hearing the stories brought up in later conversations, discussed, played out.  Every day this week I heard, “Can’t we read just a little bit more, Mommy!?” at the end of our snack time.
  • Opportunities.  Today we had an opportunity for rest and free play, which I now appreciate far more now that we suddenly have scheduled activities on the other six days of the week, but I’m also truly grateful for the Sunday School classes, community group meetings, soccer practices and games, choir practices, guitar lessons, speech therapy, Bible study, and homeschool group activities that enrich our lives.

What are you thankful for at this moment in your “drive”?

descriptive writing: crafting strong sentences by focusing on parts of speech and word order

As a lover of language, it’s important to me that my kids understand our language well.  I want them not only to be able to decode words and communicate effectively, but also to have the capacity both for deconstructing complex or difficult thoughts and for shaping their own language into something powerful and beautiful.  I want them to understand the structure of language so that they can use their knowledge to understand the power behind others’ words and so that they are able to build sentences (and paragraphs, memoirs, letters to the editor, memos, love notes) that carry weight and convey meaning with clarity and perfect emphasis.

One powerful tool a good writer has in her toolbelt is the knowledge that sentences, unlike puzzles, can be assembled in many different ways.  In fact, there are almost always numerous correct ways to construct a sentence–as well as a few incorrect ways.  Changing sentence structure not only keeps writing from seeming repetitive and boring, it also serves to change the shade of meaning.  To emphasize this fact and to get my kids started on the road of thinking about their sentence construction, I’ve devised a descriptive writing exercise.  While we’re using Michael Clay Thompson’s language arts materials, the activity below would be useful for any student who has a basic knowledge of the parts of speech and their functions.  My kids are young, so for them this will merely be an introduction to the concept of sentence structure, but this is an activity I could easily have done when I taught 8th graders.  In fact, I think all ages can benefit from writing exercises like this one.

Here are my step-by-step instructions:

  • Print a copy of the PDF Parts of Speech and Sentence Structure (or create your own).
  • Have your child select a particular place or event to describe.  Choose four nouns that can be seen in that place or at that event, and write them in the “noun” column on the paper.
  • Follow each of your nouns with a solid, vivid verb, and then fill out your page with two strong adjectives and adverbs to modify each noun and verb.
  • Cut your word pieces apart.  Using the “Bonus Words” (and any others you might need), see how many different ways you can put each sentence together.  Consider writing them all down so you can better compare them.
    • Discuss sentence structures that work.  How does changing the order of the words change the emphasis of your sentence?
    • Discuss sentence structures that do NOT work.  Why do certain word orders not make sense?
  • Optional: Choose your favorite version of each sentence.  (You may add or remove words to make the sentence stronger.)  Using your strong, descriptive sentences, write a descriptive paragraph or an entire narrative about your place or event.  Structure your sentences carefully to emphasize the things you think are most important.