Simplify Number Names

Recommended Age: 6+ | Mathematical Topic: Early Arithmetic

What To Do

Have you ever wondered why some of our English number words are so funny? Why do we say eleven and twelve? Where does the word “fifty” come from? We adults know what these funny words mean by now, but to children, it’s not that easy.

In other languages, like Mandarin (a language spoken in China), the number names are a lot more transparent. For example, instead of “eleven” and “twelve,” many people speaking other languages say “ten-one” and “ten-two.” Instead of “fifty,” many say “five-ten.” You can use a little of this wording to help your child understand our funny number words.

When you see a number like, 43, for example, you can say, “Oh look, forty-three. That’s four tens and three ones,” while pointing to the “4” and the “3” in the written numeral. Just throwing this extra information in will help your child understand how the numerals and the number names go together—a key understanding that will help them do better in school math.

Moving On

Point to one of the digits in a multi-digit number, such as the “4” in the number 2941, and ask your child what it means. If they say “40” or “four tens,” then they get it. Another way to ask is to show a written numeral, like 2941, and ask them to point to the number that shows how many hundreds or how many tens.