Series: Ideas at Work

Preschool Number Sense Routine Perfect for Transitions

Moving from one activity to another just got a lot more mathematical with this simple routine that builds early number sense with preschoolers. This dot card transition requires only index cards with 1 to 4 dots in various arrangements. Putting them on a ring makes this a handy and quick routine for those in-between times.

In this video you can see how the teacher asks children to show the same amount of fingers as dots on a given card. Much more powerful than traditional numeral flashcards, dot cards focus children on the cardinal amount of a set of dots, while connecting the number word to its quantity. Having to produce a similar-sized set of fingers requires children to translate from one representation (dots) to another representation (fingers) of the same quantity.

Notice that the dot cards are flashed for just a short time. This routine builds children’s ability to subitize—that is, to see small quantities and instantly know how many in the set without counting. Therefore, while this routine can deepen over time, the dot cards remain small quantities up through 4 (or maybe 5) that children can perceive without needing to count.

Instead, vary the questions you ask over time, such as:

  • Can you show me that number of fingers a different way?
  • Can you show me the same number of dots using two hands?
  • Can you show me one more than the number of dots on my card?
  • Can you show me one less than the number of dots on my card?

This routine is easy to differentiate in the moment by the dot card and/or question asked of different children. And, there are low language barriers for dual language learners.

What an effective way to infuse more math into your day!