Do you have a child who struggles with math? It may be because he or she has not developed the ability to subitize, yet. This is a skill that should develop in the early preschool/kindergarten years, but its lack of development in some children, especially those with visual processing challenges, can persist through the elementary years and make math particularly challenging.
Before this past spring, I had never heard of subitizing, but I knew my little guy was struggling greatly with math. He had been diagnosed with a visual processing disorder shortly after birth and being a speech-language pathologist, I knew how much this could affect his reading development so we were on top of that from the beginning. But, I had never realized how much his visually processing disorder was going to affect his development of math skills and subitizing is a key part of this.
What is subitizing?
Subitizing is the ability to ‘know’ how many of an object there is without having to count the number. Most people can do this with objects up to five unless the objects are arranged in a pattern they have learned. Then they are able to subitize larger quantities. For example, if you are driving down the road and see a row of three houses, you don’t need to count the houses to know there are three. You just know it. Look around your space right now and try this. But if you look at a shelf of say, eight books, you would have to actually count the number of books to learn how many there were. If you roll two dice, though, each one showing a six, then you will ‘know’ you have 12, without having to count the number of dots on the dice. This is because when you were younger, you learned dice patterns.
It is this learning of patterns that is so critical to young children developing their number sense. This is a key part of what my son was missing. If he could not picture what four looked like and what two looked like, how was he going to learn to add or subtract them except by counting them every time? Even if he had objects he could count, he often forgot what he counted for one of the groups before he got to an answer because he could not hold a visual representation of the number in his head. Then we were back to square one.
Does your child have trouble subitizing?
To quickly see if your child can subitize, hold up different numbers on your hand and see if she can quickly tell you the number without counting your fingers. Start with 1-5 using your right hand while facing your child and if they are able to quickly name those numbers, try 6-10 by adding your left hand to the ‘5’ on your right hand. This allows your child to ‘read’ your hands left to right as if reading text.
Next, give your child a number to make on his hands and see if he can do this quickly without counting his fingers. Lastly, have your child roll a dice several times and see if she can tell you what she rolled without counting the dots. If so, repeat this with two dice. (You can do this while playing a game to make it fun.) If your child was able to do all of these tasks without counting, then he or she is good at subitizing-yay! If your child had to count a lot of the time to determine what the numbers were, then you just figured out a key skill that he or she needs to work on!
How can you improve your child’s subitizing skills?
Pick the right math curriculum: I first learned about subitizing when I decided, once again, that our math curriculum was not working and we needed to find a new one. Through my research, I came upon RightStart Mathematics, which is a hands on curriculum that focuses on the visualization of quantities. Singapore Math also has manipulatives that target subitizing. I was unable to find any other homeschool math curricula that reported a focus on subitizing, but if you know of one, please comment below!
Play games with subitizing cards: There are many games you can play with a set of subitizing cards as part of your math lesson during your school day or outside of school time for fun. Read Subitizing Games with FREE PRINTABLE Subitizing Cards to learn what they are and download a set of cards.
Play store-bought games: (Affiliate links are included below for your convenience.)
Yahtzee: This is a great game for learning dice patterns and working on lots of math skills.
Blink: A great game for working on visual skills that includes subitizing 1-5.
Dominoes: This will expose your child to dot patterns different than the traditional dice. The more patterns they learn to recognize, the better their number sense.
Want to Learn More? Check Out:
Number Sense Routines: Building Numerical Literacy Every Day in Grades K-3 by Jessica F. Shumway
Number SENSE: Simple Effective Number Sense Experiences, Grades 1-2 by Barbara Reys and Robert Reys