# A Deep Sense of Number Starts with DOTS & SPOTS

Number sense is a DEEP and FLEXIBLE understanding of numbers and involves the ability to perceive numbers, how they relate to each other and how they can be manipulated. Number sense underpins most other mathematical learning, so it is vital that children develop a STRONG UNDERSTANDING of numbers in the early years of their education. Research has shown that characteristics for number sense correlates with later mathematical achievement, so all young children can benefit from acquiring a strong sense of number.

The benefits gained by developing children’s spatial thinking abilities through activities involving dice, dominoes, dot cards, five/ ten-frames and Hungarian Frames are well founded. More recent evidence suggests that the link is far greater than previously considered.

Each of these patterns is structured in order to allow children to subitise small amounts and link well to the use of fingers. The different structures each illustrate mathematical concepts in different ways and lend themselves to easily exposing specific patterns.

Considering that number sense is the ability to work fluently and flexibly with numbers, developed through plenty of experience, we can see that using different structured dot patterns with manipulatives provides many opportunities to develop a deep sense of number.

Here are 5 ways you can PLAYFULLY **PROMOTE NUMBER SENSE** with your children:

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** 1. SUBITISE **

I am very aware that number sense defines the ability to work fluently and flexibly with number and, in my experience, it is evident that the ability to **subitise** is a crucial component in the development of number sense. It begins in infancy with a sensitivity to number. Then children learn to recognise very small numbers. Later, they learn to do it quickly - perceptual subitizing. Another qualitative progression is their ability to see several groups and combine them quickly into one quantity - conceptual subitising.

While most children naturally connect with their innate ability to subitise, we need to be mindful that some children won’t subitise without a little extra guidance (SASC, 2019). **We have found that it is best to provide opportunities to explore numbers in a meaningful way, as opposed to explicitly teaching subitising.**

Some children require a little encouragement to ensure they are subitising and not relying too heavily on counting. The patterns break up numbers differently, some highlighting the parts and the whole more obviously to help draw out these connections. Teaching that emphasises the part/whole nature of numbers aids children in working flexibly with numbers and this skill can be transferred to all later calculations.

**2. FINGER PATTERNS**

Fingers are a key component of early maths learning and therefore I actively encourage the use of finger patterns to develop a sense of number. Fingers can provide the first concrete notion of a number for a young child and provide a link to the counting word. As their experience grows, children need to move on to seeing numbers as a set and have an appreciation of the quantity as a whole.

When starting with dots, ensure the link to finger patterns is firmly established.

This will provide a clear progression from the child’s interpretation of number through their fingers to link meaningfully to other representations they encounter.

**3. DICE PATTERNS **

Dice patterns are a good starting point to become familiar with subitisable quantities. The dice pattern is generally the first structure children will recognise due to its familiarity, although it is possible to argue that in the modern world, with fewer families playing board games, some children are less familiar with this pattern nowadays! The iconic five pattern and the fact that any number lower than five can be subitised does encourage and develop subitising skills.

4. HUNGARIAN FRAME

Developing Numbers to Ten – the Hungarian Number Frame is the five dice pattern shown twice, side by side. Note that this frame is an important structure to promote subitising because of the way it decomposes numbers into subitisable amounts of 5 or less. This supports developing reasoning and mathematical thinking as five and ten are key reference points which enable children to discover relationships between numbers.

** 5. FIVE/ TEN FRAMES**

A Tens Frame is a liner structure which is a two by five rectangular frame into which dots or counters are placed to represent numbers within ten. As a linear model, this frame can be used vertically or horizontally.

Be aware that before children can use the Tens Frame effectively, it is important for them to be proficient at perceptually and conceptually subitising. Building on dice patterns first to secure subitising can then enable children to use other structures flexibly, make connections and move between different representations.

Children need a repertoire of images to draw on, which they connect with and enable them to visualise and make sense of numbers. The activities we have included go some way to create a visual vehicle on which children can transfer their knowledge. They are simple, but build foundations for later learning.

Considering that number sense is the ability to work fluently and flexibly with numbers, developed through plenty of experience, we can see that using different structured dot patterns with manipulatives provides many opportunities to develop a deep sense of number.

**Some useful links...**

Virtual Hungarian Number Frame

**I'd love to hear your thoughts on SPOTS & DOTS. Which ideas resonate with you? What questions do you have? All views are welcome - post in the comments. **

**Thank you for all you do to support your children's number journey. **

**Love, Janey x**