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Recognition of Quantity

Supporting Mathematical Development in Young Children

This video describes children's ability to subitize, or recognize the quantity of small sets without counting. It also provides examples of how early childhood professionals can both explicitly teach this skill and support its development through daily routines and play. 

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  • Video Transcript for Recognition of Quantity

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    Download a transcript of this video in .pdf format in English and Spanish.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan, Eastern Connecticut State University: Recognition of quantity is an important step in the counting sequence. This is when children have progressed beyond the number words. They know that a set of objects can be counted, they have a quantity. And they come to a point where they realize that, “Oh, I just know this is three.”

    Narrator: The ability to immediately recognize a quantity is called subitizing. The word subitize comes from a Latin word meaning “suddenly.” 

    Child: Two.
    Teacher: You’ve got two. Two bees.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: And this is when they make a perceptual, a visual connection to the numbers and they immediately know the total quantity…

    Teacher: So how many blocks are on the plate?
    Child: Four.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: Just by looking at a set of objects.

    Teacher: How did you know that?
    Child: Because I saw them.

    How Can You Support Children to Recognize Quantity? (1:13)


    Narrator: Adults can encourage children to recognize the quantity of objects in their immediate environment.

    Child: I got three.
    Teacher: Do you want three?

    Supporting Math during Routines (1:29)


    Narrator: Mealtimes provide opportunities for developing this ability.

    Teacher: How many crackers can I have, Grace?
    Child: Four.
    Teacher: Four; you got four. Should I get four?

    Narrator: Using picture labels at snack time can be especially useful.

    Explicitly Teaching Math Concepts (1:51)


    Teacher: Show me with your fingers.
    Child: Look there, right there.

    Narrator: Adults can plan intentionally to support children’s ability to recognize quantity. One strategy is to provide quick images of small sets.

    Child: Green!
    Children: Two! Two!
    Teacher: There were two green cubes. Let’s check and see if you were right.
    Children: Two!
    Teacher: You were right.

    Integrating Math Learning in Play (2:20)


    Narrator: Board games are a great tool to support recognition of quantity.

    Teacher: Where are you going to put it? What do you have?
    Children: Four in a row!

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: When they’re playing with dice, for instance, they have to recognize the number of moves that they can make.

    Child: (rolls die)
    Teacher: What did you get?
    Child: Six.
    Teacher: Six. You didn’t even have to count.

    Dr. Sudha Swaminathan: As they get older, this becomes even more conceptual. Where they don’t recognize it as a visual arrangement, but they start to see groups. They might look at the six on the die, and realize that there are two groups of three, or there are three groups of two. Then they start to combine the groups and realize the total quantity.



    © 2016 Connecticut Office of Early Childhood
    Produced by the Center for Early Childhood Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.
    May be reprinted for educational purposes.

  • Producers: Terry Surprenant, Sean Leser, Julia DeLapp
    Script: Terry Surprenant
    Content Expert: Dr. Sudha Swaminathan
    Videography/Editing: Sean Leser
    Narration: Sean Leser

  • The Center wishes to thank the following Connecticut programs, organizations, and agencies who assisted in the making of this video:
    Child and Family Development Resource Center, Willimantic
    Connecticut Office of Early Childhood
    Cooperative Educational Services School Readiness Program, Trumbull
    Early Childhood Laboratory School at Housatonic Community College, Bridgeport
    EASTCONN Plainfield Head Start, Plainfield
    New Heights Child Development Center, Willimantic
    Out Came the Sun Child Care, Windham
    Windham Early Childhood Center, Willimantic
    Women's League Child Development Center, Hartford
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