Number Sense Activities

Number sense activities don't have to be complicated. Kids improve their number sense skills every time they count, explore numbers, or find out "how much" there is of something. Work these number sense activities into your day and watch your children's math confidence soar.

Giant Number Line: String a rope across the classroom and attach some numbers to it with clothespins to make a giant number line. Give kids papers to hang up on their clothesline and ask questions such as, "Where will 40 go? How do you know?" Encourage them to adjust their guesses as new numbers go up. Ask: "What number would go here? What about here?"

As a fun and festive variation, you can use Christmas lights for this activity! See what one teacher did and how he used the lights to practice counting, odd and even, and other number sense skills:

Count Your World: Be on the lookout for natural opportunities for counting throughout the day. Count the seconds until a stop light turns green (one one thousand, two one thousand, etc). Count out pretzels to make sure everyone gets the same amount. Count the pennies in the savings jar, and if there are a lot, count them by 2s or by 5s. Count the steps as you climb them, and on the way back down (once you know how many steps there are) count backwards to the bottom!

Number Sense Beans: You'll need a permanent marker and some dried, large beans (lima beans are great). Number Sense Activities Write numbers on the beans between 1-100. On index cards, write things to do with the beans, such as:

  • Find beans greater than 50.
  • Find the odd numbers.
  • Order beans from high to low.
  • Order beans from low to high.
  • Add two beans together. What do you get?
Store the beans together with the cards in a sealable plastic bag. To play, have kids pick a card and scoop out a handful of beans. You may think of other number sense activities to do with number beans. Kids love playing with these!

Cooking with Kids: Use cooking as a great excuse to talk numbers. Let kids be in charge of counting out the number of cups or teaspoons they dump in the bowl. Show them two containers and ask which holds more. Introduce the concept of fractions by cutting baked goods in half and sharing them. (Yum!)

Numbers in the News: If you get the newspaper, give a section to your child and have him circle all the numbers he can find and read these to you. Or call up a news page on your iPad or tablet and have your child see how many numbers she can find.

Make it a competition: see who can find more numbers on their page. (Sports and ad pages have lots of numbers!) See who can find the most odd or even numbers on a page. Or cut out printed numbers and sort them into fractions, money, percents, ordinal numbers, etc.

Once you've tried out a bunch of different number sense activities, your child will likely pick up some favorites. There is no better teacher than repetition, so give the kids what they want: more fun math practice!

(For a collection of great number sense and math games that give tons of practice in first and second grade math, visit Miss Brain's Cool Math Games.)


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“Education is not preparation for life. Education is life itself. ”
~John Dewey