Written by Debbie Markland

I taught in an elementary school for two years, in a middle school for five, and in preschool for another 7, but it was not until I started a new job at an innovative play based preschool, until I heard the word subitize. In fact, it was not until recently that Google docs recognized it as a word.  So for those of you who may teach in an older traditional style preschool or for parents who most likely attended a traditional preschool – let’s talk about subitizing.

According to dictionary.com, subitizing is making “an immediate or accurate reckoning of (the number of items in a group or sample) without needing to pause and actually count them.”  I like to simplify it as – being able to count a number of objects without actually counting them, or simply just recognizing the amount of objects in a set just by looking.  If you think of how we might use this in adult everyday life, it makes more sense.  When we play a game of cards, even if the five of hearts may not have the numeral 5 in the corner, we still recognize it as a 5 of hearts.  We have subitized that set of 5 hearts.  Or when we play a game with dice and we roll a 3 on a die, we know that it is a three, without touching each dot in the die.

In preschool, teaching children to subitize helps them see properties of a number.  They begin to notice that four is made up of two sets of two.  Or that a six is two sets of three.  Erikson Math Collaborative states that all children are born with an innate ability to perceive the difference between 1 and 2 objects. So if start with that concept and build from there, teaching subitizing continues to build on what skills a child already has. It also allows them to see that a number is an amount or a collection of objects not a numeral (the symbol that is associated with each number).

Subitizing helps children to determine relationships between numbers often setting up skills that will help them in higher level math.  When a child can easily subitize a set of four and then count up from that set of four, they are performing preschool addition essentially.  Similarly (as mentioned above), as they begin to notice that a six is made up of two sets of three- multiplication.

Create fun ways to expose children to this.  We have several activities posted on our website that help work on this skill.  Teaching subitizing is a strategy we should teach our children.  This is a rough chart to use as a guideline to help you know what “subitizing level” your child may be on based on their age.  Start with working on subitizing one or two and then progress from there.