How to to use a number track

What is a number track?

A number track is a row of boxes containing a sequence of numbers, usually from 1 to 10.

Number tracks in the classroom

Your small child will often have one on their table or stuck to a wall to use during maths lessons. They are used to help with recognising numbers, understanding the position of numbers relative to one another, counting forwards and backwards, and addition and subtraction.

Number tracks at home (and what else you need)

When using a number track at home, make sure it’s clear and of a good size so that it’s easy and accessible for your child to use. Bigger is better! Have it in front of you. Be ready with spares!

It’s a good idea to have your child use a finger or a toy to tap the number track. A little toy animal that jumps in real life is ideal e.g. a toy frog or rabbit.

Using number tracks for one more / one less

A number track is a great tool for children to visualise one more or less. Have one in front of you when you ask one more / one less questions. Ask:

“Which numbers are next to 5? Which number is bigger than 5? Which number is smaller than 5? So which number is one more than 5?”

“Put your finger on 6. What is one greater than 6? What is one less than 6?”

As they get the hang of it, cover up a number eg 4. “Which number is covered? Is that one more or one less than 3?”

“What’s one less than 7? One less than 6? One less than 5? What do you notice?”

“Now what is 2 more than 6?”

Once your child feels confident, vary the words you use to describe more or less e.g. increase/decrease, add/take, bigger/smaller, greater than/less than.

How do I use a number track to count on forwards and backwards?

“What is 2 more than 5?”

Start by physically touching or placing the toy on the starting number and only start counting as you “jump” to the next number. By physically tapping and exaggerating the jumps your child will start to understand that 7 is 2 more than 5.

If your child is confused by this, you may need to go back a step and play some games to reinforce their understanding of the value of a set (e.g. knowing that the value of a set of 5 counters is 5). This is called cardinality.

You could have a little Tupperware box of 5 identical counters/toys/sweets to show. Holding the idea of “the five-ness of 5” (or any number) in their heads is tricky for many young children – it is very common and completely normal.

Number tracks for counting on in real life

Simple board games using a die and a number track are a fun way for children to practise all sorts of number skills, especially “counting on” correctly (they soon realise they don’t want to waste one of their moves by tapping their piece on the square they start on!) A good example is the “Deep Dark Wood” Gruffalo game by Ravensburger.

Number tracks for addition and subtraction

You can use a number track to add two numbers together. For example, 4 + 3. Say what you’re doing as you do it.

“4 plus 3. OK, we are going to add 4 and 3 and see what that is altogether. Where do I start?” (Place a toy/finger on 4)

“So we’ll start on 4 as that’s the first number. Next, we’re going to jump on 3 more, going forwards because when we add, the answer will be bigger”.

“So we start on 4…” (now move your finger or toy and count as you move exaggerating the jumps as you move) “5, 6, 7”.

“What number have we landed on?” “7!”

“We started on 4 and jumped three more and we ended up on 7, so 4 plus 3 more makes 7”

Now, let your child have a go. Again, this relies on children have a secure understanding of the “four-ness of 4” and if they are finding this tricky to hold in their head, they make need some extra help in this area first.

Take it outside!

Why not draw a giant number track outside in chalk and have your child jump along to different numbers? Children love to move their bodies to help them learn!

Using number tracks to help child write numbers

Number tracks are also handy to have on hand to help children with writing their numbers (number formation). It’s good to have one in front of your child for them to look at while they are learning to form numbers. Try taping one to the wall or the table they are sitting at.

Where next?

Once children are comfortable with a 1-10 track they might start to use an 11-20 track. They will eventually progress on to using a 100 square and number lines as tools to help them deepen their number sense.

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