Teaching numbers in a fun and interactive way

When we think of numbers we tend to think of counting and the truth is many autistic children can count, read and spell from a very young age. There is however so much more to numbers.

Numeracy in the real world consists of understanding and being able to apply mathematical skills, such as reading a recipe and being able to apply the maths of halving or doubling ingredients.

Numbers/Mathematics is about shopping and getting change, about addition, subtraction, fractions, measurement and time. Numbers is about catering for an event or remembering a certain sequence in case of an emergency

Teaching numbers and helping our children gain a passion for numbers is extremely important for their future independence. Autistic children in particular need to be taught numbers from a very young age. They need to be taught what the number represent and means – not just which follows onto what or what comes next.

But numbers can be very boring! So here are a few tips that will help your autistic pre-school child grasp numbers with ease:

  • Avoid worksheet at the offset of lesson planning…  Make the activities you do with your pre-school special needs child fun so that the child can learn to love math!
  • Age appropriate number activities will need to include shapes, colours, matching, number identification, spatial geometry and so much more.  Numbers or rather Mathematics is not just about the 1, 2 and 3.
  • Make your number activities tactile so that the child can feel the numbers whilst learning their names.  Using sensory number art can be fun but will also fall in the messy play category of learning (which we all know has many advantages).
  • Number hunting sensory boxes or sand-boxes are another great way to learn our numbers.  Get your child to go on a hunt for numbers and then match it with the same number on a master page!
  • Mazes can be fun and don’t have to be on paper … you can build Lego mazes and incorporate different numbers that your child needs to follow to get out of the maze or win a prize.
  • Incorporate gross motor activities like target practice with water balloons and numbers.
  • Drawing numbers in shaving foam or sand is not just a great pre-writing activity it is visual and tactile and will re-enforce learning through the use of a variety of the child’s senses
  • You can use index cards for small counting mats.  The children can count out sets of items onto each index card.  For this you can use math counters or any other item that you have lying around the house.  This can include anything from foam shapes to buttons or large lacing beads. 
  • Play dough number shaping games – allows for the child to manipulate the dough to form a variety of different numbers. 
  • Play dough stamps is when children press a number stamp in the play dough and count out the amount of marbles to press in the play dough.  They then place the marbles into the holes in the dough.

For the autistic school going child you can plan activities such as:

  • Paint by number art projects can be done with the slightly older child and you can make it tactile with finger painting or sand-art.
  • Use old boxes in different sizes to stack for the younger children or to demonstrate fractions to children of school going age.
  • Counting activities can easily be incorporated when you are out and about.  Counting cars or the colours of cars can keep children busy whilst travelling.  But you can ask your child to count how many of a particular object you have in your home or garden.
  • Measure activities can be done with building blocks and pictures, with drawing on a wall for height or even with a measuring tape in the garden.  “Which tree stump is bigger or wider?”
  • Play measuring games in the kitchen with your children or let them help you when you are baking a cake. 
  • Let your child run an experiment and measure how much something holds or weighs?  You can ask them something like:  “how many cups of water will fit into a 1 litre bottle?” This will allow for a counting activity, measuring activity and motor planning activity all wrapped up in one.
  • Invest in a variety of match based puzzles that are self correcting.  This is a great way to start introducing the concept of math to children.  Remember that our autistic children are visual learners. 
Ilse Kilian-Ross

Ilse Kilian-Ross is the owner of Amazing K, a registered ECD and Partial Care Facility in Johannesburg. Amazing K is a private adhd school, autism school and therapy centre for children from age 2 - 6 years where learners receive the best of both the schooling and therapy world. The autism school offers Individualized Education Programs, Speech- and Augmentive Alternative Communication (AAC) therapy as well as a full and adapted Academic Curriculum.