Subitising in maths: what on earth is that?
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Subitising in Maths Explained
Subitising is recognising small numbers of things without actually having to count them. For example, when you roll a dice you recognise that there are four dots without counting them. Subitising can help children to understand what numbers are, to begin to partition and to develop number sense. In the early years (preschool and Reception), children look at small groups of objects, how many fingers are being held up or the dots on dice to help them to develop this skill. Our brains can only easily subitise numbers up to five and children are expected to learn to do this by the end of their Reception year at school. If your child is starting school soon, you might find this Guide to Starting School useful.
Subitising Activities for Early Years (EYFS)
Board games with dice are an ideal way to introduce subitising. The more that your child plays them, the more used to automatically recognising each amount on the dice they will be! Board games are also fun and help children to learn that all important skill of turn-taking!
In your maths subitising lessons, use a range of objects (or manipulatives), such as counters, blocks or beads. Lay them out in different arrangements so that children are aware that 4 blocks are always 4 blocks, even when they are arranged in a different way. Show children that the same amount might be represented in a line, a tower, a circle or a random arrangement.
Hold up flashcards and ask your child how many objects they can see without actually counting. You might want to provide the corresponding number on the back, so that your child can turn the card over to check their answer. You could also play a snap or pairs game using cards with up to five pictures on them. You can get a free copy of these dinosaur flashcards here!
Fingers are a free and 'to hand' resource for teaching subitising! They also come in useful for adding and subtracting and learning number bonds to ten! Using fingers in maths, particularly in the early years, should always be encouraged!
Spinners with dots or pictures on provide an alternative to dice - good for mixing things up a bit! Children could spin them and then make that many jumps along a track, clap or hop that many times. Give each child or pair of children a spinner so that they don't have to wait their turn for too long!
Teach your child how to play the game of dominoes, whilst also teaching them to subitise! You could buy some large floor dominoes to use indoors or outdoors. This will encourage movement and develop those gross motor skills too.
Five frames are an easy way to represent numbers. They are also a good introduction to subitising, as they provide a simple way to visualise a small number, compared to a random arrangement of objects. You might want to draw a five frame using chalk outside and place natural objects on it.
Clip cards are a great way to work on subitising – whilst also working on fine motor strength too! Children should say the amount shown on the card and then clip the peg to the correct numeral. This is a great way for them to learn what each numeral looks like.
This preschool activity book also contains some fantastic subitising activities!
Selected images from Pixabay