Do number charts help 5-12 year olds understand maths?

A simple number chart can really help a child who has difficulty with number patterns, depending on how it’s used. However, it is important to remember that saying the numbers in order is the first step in teaching any part of the 0-9 pattern. Reading the numbers comes next, and writing them follows on from there. Very often these first two steps are not worked on sufficiently, with children being rushed on to writing numbers ahead of practice in saying and reading them.

For example, if a 5 year old can say the numbers 0-9 forwards and backwards in order, it’s fine to use a chart or number line to help them start reading the numbers in order. When they can read them accurately, they’re ready to start learning how to write them. As they practise reading and writing 0-9 over time, they can also learn to say the next group of numbers, 10-19. And when this is mastered, they’ll be ready to learn to read 10-19 and later, write these numbers.

Kids develop a very sound understanding of the 0-9 number pattern when this method is continued right through to the higher numbers.

1-100 number charts are very useful for counting forwards and backwards by ones, twos, tens, fives etc. Often, however, 1-100 is the only number chart children are presented with because it’s assumed that if they’re fine with numbers and patterns up to 100, they’ll be fine with all the higher numbers. This is frequently not the case.

Many children get stuck on saying numbers in order above 100. For example, you’ll often find they hesitate after saying 109 and have to think very hard about what comes next. The same often happens after saying 119.

To help avoid this uncertainty, I recommend you use a 0-119 chart, and when they’re comfortable with the upper end, get them to fill in their own add-on chart below it. You can download a 0-119 and blank chart here.

It’s also a good idea to give them practice grids to fill in when learning to write a section of the 0-9 pattern that they can already say and read. You can download some practice grids here. You’ll notice that some squares are blacked out on these grids. This is because kids often copy the last digit in each column. The black squares on the grids force them to think about the numbers in order because they can’t just copy the pattern.

Number charts can also be useful for demonstrating or reinforcing addition and subtraction strategies, for example, counting on from the larger number in addition (We get to the same point if we add 5 + 13 or 13 + 5. Which is easier to do?), or adding or taking away chunks of a number in addition or subtraction problems (14 + 6 can become 14 + 2 + 2 + 2 – three jumps of 2). However, a child who finds ‘chunking’ too abstract on a number chart will need to have it explained with hand-on materials.

Charts are great for highlighting skip-counting patterns. Kids LOVE using stickers or whiteboard markers to show patterns on laminated charts! Remember that they need to start on odd numbers as well as even numbers when skipcounting by twos, and should also have varied starting numbers when skipcounting in other patterns. This helps develop a much broader understanding of the patterns.


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