• Heather Minielly

Easy Games to Grow Big Ideas about Number JK - Grade 1

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

In this post I share three of my favourite games to help your child develop a deep understanding of numbers to ten. These games are easy to create with materials from around the house.

These games allow your child to see quantities rather than deal with number symbols. This is important in the early stages of learning. Hold off showing the symbol for a number until your child really knows and understands a quantity.

What does it mean to really know and understand a quantity? Below is an example of what children need to learn about the number five. Most children can learn these early number concepts through being immersed in real life counting experiences and playing number games like the ones shared later in this post.

  • five refers to the size of a group

  • five can mean five of anything (e.g. it could be 5 objects, walking steps, words, ideas, sounds)

  • the objects in the group can be moved around - as long as we don't remove anything or add anything, it will still be a group of 5

  • a group of five can be broken into smaller groups

  • smaller groups can be combined to make five

  • all the numbers less than five nest within five - five contains the quantities four, three, two and one.

  • five is one more than four

  • five is two more than three

  • five is three more than two

  • five is four more than one

  • five is one less than six

These are not ideas children can learn from us just telling them. Children develop these ideas over time with plenty of real life opportunities to count and play with quantities.

Dice Rolling Race to the Finish Games

You can use any commercial game that requires children to roll a single dice and move along a path.

Or you can easily make your own game board. I made this one in 2 minutes! Your child might enjoy colouring it or adding a theme.

It's also fun to use sidewalk chalk to draw a game path on your driveway.

Grab a couple of game tokens or stuffed animals and let the race begin.

Simply take turns rolling the dice and moving your token or stuffy the number of spaces shown on the dice. The player who reaches the end of the path first wins the race.

At first your child will need to count the dots on the dice. That’s ok! Eventually they will learn to recognize the quantities. You can model this on your turn.

Rollin Rollin Rollin

Here's another fun way to develop subitizing.

For this game you need five dice and

some counters for keeping score. For counters, you could use pennies, bingo chips, poker chips, or any similar objects.

Players take turns doing the following:

  • choose a target number between 1 and 6

  • roll the five dice all at once

  • set aside the dice that match the target number

  • re-roll the rest of the dice

  • repeat for four rolls

After four rolls of the dice, count how many dice match the target number. In the picture above, the player has rolled three 5's, which was their target number. So they have taken three counters.

The first player to collect 20 counters wins the game. You can change the end goal to suit you and your child.

You might want to copy and print the organizer below. Or draw one like I did. As each player wins counters they can place them in their organizer to keep track of how close to 20 they are. Teachers call these organizers 'ten frames'. The structure of these organizers helps children learn that a 10 is made up of two fives.

How Many Are Hiding?

Put a collection of objects (stones, marbles, candies, coins, etc.) in your hand.

Ask your child to figure out how many you have in your hand.

Now, put both hands behind your back. Move some of the items to your other hand.

Bring one hand back in front of you and show your child the items that remain. Ask them “How many stones are hidden behind my back?"

Now it’s your child’s turn to hide the stones and your turn to guess.

How to help your child progress:

When children are first learning, they may need to use their fingers or draw a picture to help them figure out how many objects are hidden.

This child drew three pebbles when she first saw the amount in her parent's hand. Then she circled the two pebbles that remained in the hand after some were hidden. She can now see that there must be one pebble hidden in the other hand.

After some time using drawings, encourage your child to try using visualization to figure out how many are missing. Here's how:

When your child looks at the full set of objects in your hand, suggest that they try to take a picture of it in their mind, like a camera does. When you reveal the partial set in your hand, ask your child to try to use the picture in their head to figure out what is missing.

Eventually your child will remember the combinations that make various quantities.

How many objects should you use?

That depends on your child's starting point. If you're not sure, start with 3 objects. When this becomes fairly easy for your child, increase the number of objects by one. Now, vary the number of objects you start with, sometimes using three objects and sometimes using four objects as the whole. Gradually work your way up through all the quantities to ten.


Lawson, A. (2015). What to Look For: Understanding and Developing Student Thinking in Early Numeracy. Pearson Canada.

Fosnot, C., & Dolk, M. (2001). Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Number Sense, Addition and Subtraction. Heinemann.

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