Teaching Number Recognition in Preschool: As Easy As One, Two, Three!

Teaching Number Recognition in Preschool: As Easy As One, Two, Three!
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Repetition is the Key

When it comes to number recognition, repetition is the key to success for preschoolers! The more preschoolers are exposed to written numbers, the easier it will be for them to recognize and differentiate between them. There really is no timeline for children to begin learning to recognize numbers, though many children will begin to understand what a number is by the time they are about two and a half.

Many preschoolers are able to use numbers arbitrarily; pretending to count, or mixing up numbers and letters. From about the age of four, preschoolers will begin to show one to one correspondence, or the ability to count objects correctly, as well as recognize most numbers 0-9 and sometimes recreate numerals when given an example. As with many preschool skills, it is important for teachers to provide many different opportunities for children to see, touch and use numbers throughout the day. Including numbers in sensory play can help children begin to recognize numbers.

Who is First?

A quick activity to use with preschoolers that will help them understand numbers is “Who is first?” For this activity, you will need to create several index cards with numbers written on them. As children arrive in your classroom each morning, hand each one an index card with a number written on it. Ask the child to take good care of her card, as she will need it later in the day.

After a morning circle time activity, ask the children to look at their index cards. Ask the children to find the student that has the number one on his card. This way, children that can already reliably recognize numbers will be able to help those who may need assistance. Ask the children to line up for outdoor play or the next activity according to their numbers. If necessary, write down the numbers on a chalkboard or dry erase board if children need help identifying a certain number. After children have lined up according to their numbers, ask the children to hand you back the card after “reading” their number to you.

How Many Can Fit?

Including numbers in your everyday preschool curriculum will help children begin to grasp number recognition. For each learning center in your classroom, decide how many children can safely and effectively play there each day. For example, two children at the computer at a time, five children in the block area, and four children at the art table. Make large signs for each area, displaying the number of children that are allowed in at a time. At the entrance to each learning center, create a pouch using an envelope cut in half and place the corresponding number of popsicle sticks in each envelope.

When releasing children to play in the learning centers, be sure to ask the children to remove one Popsicle stick when entering the center. This is their “ticket”. If there are no tickets left, there is no more room at that learning center. You can use this method to teach children simple math skills, also. For example, if a child would like to play in the block area, ask him to count how many children are already playing there. Then, ask him how many spaces are left and if there is room for him to play. Children will be able to connect numbers to physical objects in this way, an important one to one correspondence skill.

Sensory Play

There are many ways to include number recognition in sensory play. Here are a few very simple examples you can use in your classroom right away, no advance planning required!

Magnetic Numbers: purchase a few sets of magnetic numbers and allow children to play with them freely. Provide dry erase boards or baking pans for children to stick the numbers to.

Cornmeal: Sprinkle some gritty cornmeal into a shallow tray and allow children to use their fingers to trace numbers in the meal. You may need to provide examples of each number for children to refer to when participating in this activity.

Yarn Numbers: Provide children with several different colors and lengths of yarn. Create a few “tracing cards”, writing numbers on sheets of poster board. Ask children to use the yarn to “trace” the number on the card. You can glue the length of yarn to the card if you wish, creating a pleasant tactile activity for preschoolers.

Button Cups: Gather ten plastic cups and write numbers 0-9, one number on each cup. Give children a collection of buttons or other small items such as shells, to separate into the number cups. This can be a good game for children to play cooperatively, especially if one child has mastered number recognition and the other is still working on this concept.

It is not difficult to include many different number recognition games and activities into your regular preschool curriculum. Remember that each child will develop these skills at a different rate, and keep the activities challenging yet engaging.


  • Author’s own classroom experience