What is a number? – First week of Kindergarten Math

My first week of teaching has been a lot of fun!  This post is about some of the things we did with the Kindergartners.

On the first day, after introductions and getting to know each other, I asked them what subject I was there to teach.  After a long silence, followed three suggestions: Spanish, English, and Russian (interestingly, they had just had a lesson in English whereas Spanish and Russian are not being offered at the school).  I decided to break the suspense and tell them that I was there to teach math.  Right away, two of the kids blurted out, “I hate math!”  (Already at 5?)  I told them that I really hoped to change that attitude this year.

Then I decided that since they were old enough to hate it, they were old enough to tell me what they think it is.  Here was the list that they generated:


I need to remember to ask them again at the end of the year and hopefully the list will have many additions.

Now onto actual activities that we did!  Many of them were inspired by Jane Kats and her books/workbooks.  The main theme was that there are many ways to represent a number.  For example, the number 5 can be written as a numeral, it can be written in words, it can be represented by five dots, five lines, or even audibly with 5 claps or 5 animal sounds.

Here are some highlights:

  • Animal Counting: Each kid picked an animal and a noise that it makes (we had a snake, a dog, a wolf and a tiger).  The challenge was to listen to me clap and then make the animal noise as many times as I clapped.  I had to tell some of the kids to adjust their noises to make them short and discrete because it was hard to determine how many times a-woo-oo-oo and hssssssss should count as.  This was actually a bit of a challenge for some of the kids because I told them not to count the claps out loud.
  • Number Scavenger Hunt: I made sticky notes with different representations of the numbers 2-9 on them (digit, word, various dot and line arrangements) and hung them up all around the room.  Each kid was verbally given a number and had to find all the stickies with that number on them.  Finding the words was by far the hardest for the kids.  Also, I noticed that they were always able to recognize up to 4 dots/lines without counting.  With 5 and 6 dots it depended on the kid and the arrangement, and with 7 or more dots they always had to count.
  • 1,2,3, Peak and See: For this activity one needs an empty candy box with a lid and colorful stones.  Arrange 2-9 stones in the box so that the kids can’t see and close the lid.  Then say 1,2,3, peak and see and open up the lid for about a second.  The kids then have to tell you how many stones they saw.  The goal is for them not to have enough time to actually count the stones but to notice a pattern that they can recognize or remember and then count in their heads.  For example, in the picture below they may notice that there are groups of 1, 2, and 3 and then combine the quantities in their heads to get 6.


As with the previous activity, I noticed that up to 4 they would always just know the answer without counting, with 5, 6, and sometimes 7 they would usually get it right after a moment of thought and with 8 or 9 they would rarely get it correct (although they would sometimes guess correctly but not be able to explain how they counted).

The kids also got a chance to make up problems for each other.  I think that this was their favorite part.

We also drew monsters,



estimated the number of steps between objects, and played many different games.  It was a fun and active week!




About aofradkin

I enjoy thinking about presenting mathematical concepts to young children in exciting and engaging ways.
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