Number Talks - Math For Preschoolers - Parenting For Brain Skip to Content

Number Talks – Math For Preschoolers

Learning mathematics is important, even for preschoolers.

Research shows that preschoolers’ math knowledge at kindergarten entry is a strong predictor of later academic achievement in middle school.

Using number talks, parents can help their preschoolers master math concepts early on.

Parents can also introduce preschoolers to various visual-spatial reasoning activities.

girl writes math equation on transparent board - number talks

What Are Number Talks?

Number talks were developed for classroom teachers to engage students in verbal thinking about math problems or concepts. They are short daily exercises aimed at helping students obtain number sense.

Number sense is an intuitive understanding of numbers in terms of their magnitudes, relative relationships and how they are modified by operations. It is more than just counting or using numbers as symbols.

Although number talks are often referred to as the teaching method used in grade schools, they can be adapted for preschoolers teaching.

In a study conducted by the University of Chicago, researchers monitored how often preschool and daycare teachers used math language in their daily activities and then measured the children’s level of math knowledge over the school year.

It was found that the growth of these preschoolers’ math knowledge was correlated with the amount of the math-talk or number related vocabulary used by the teachers. This correlation in growth is present regardless of how much the children already knew before they started.

This is not too surprising.

The more a preschooler is exposed to math-related conversations, the more number sense they will acquire.

Parents can help their preschoolers improve math knowledge by simply using more math-talk in daily interactions.

Here are some suggestions on how to do that using the nine types of math-talks identified by researchers.


5 hands with 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 fingers - preschool math

Counting is knowing the counting words (e.g. 1, 2, 3, …) and counting each object in a set.

“Oh, wow, Grace has so many teeth. Let’s count how many she has 1, 2, 3, … 8.”
“I have some marbles here. Let’s count them 1, 2, 3, …”
“What day is today? Let’s count on the calendar …”

2. Cardinality

a bowl of colorful cheerios - number talk

Cardinality is knowing, stating or asking for the number of objects in a set without counting.

“Billy, I have 3 candies here. You can have two of them.”
“I can see five cheerios in your hand.”

3. Equivalence

number talks equivalence

Equivalence is finding a quantitative match between two or more entities or sets of entities.

“Let’s share these candies by diving them equally.”
“Oh, see, both you and Chris have 3 cookies. You have the same amount.”
“Yes, you can have the same amount of carrots that your brother has.”
“Can you cut the apple pie into two equal halves?”

4. Nonequivalence

number talks nonequivalence

Nonequivalence is expressing the knowledge that two entities are unequal in quantity.

“Whose bowl has more pasta? Michelle or Lilly’s?”
“Who has the most marshmallows?”
“Is 10 more than 5?”
“I have 2 pencils. Steve has 4 pencils. Do we have the same number of pencils?”

5. Number Symbols

Knowing number symbols is recognizing a number in written form.

“Can you find me a “4” on this cereal box?”
“What age is this box of toy for? This is Age …?”

6. Conventional Nominatives

Conventional nominatives is using numbers as labels for items, dates, etc.

“Do you like the story “The Three Little Pigs”?”
“Today is January the fifth.”
“We finished part one of this story yesterday. Let’s continue with part two today.”

7. Ordering

Ordering is arranging items in a set in sequence.

“We just finished page 4. The next page is page 5.”
“What comes after 0, 1 and 2?”
“We have 3 bowls of M&Ms here. One has 5. One has 4 and one has 6. Can you put them in order?”

8. Calculation

The calculation is performing a calculation or asking for an answer

“You have two strawberries. If I give you one more, how many do you have now?”
“We had 10 cherries in our bowl but Nancy took 2. How many cherries are left?”
“There are 5 cookies on the plate, but I only want 2. How many can you have?”

9. Placeholding

What are number talks

Placeholding refers to place values such as ones, tens, hundreds, etc.

“This is not seven-two. It’s seventy-two. It’s seven tens plus two ones”
“137 is One hundred thirty-seven.”

References – Math Talk