Missing Numbers: Building essential math skills for preschoolers

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Mathematics is a crucial skill that every child needs to learn. It helps develop logical reasoning, problem-solving abilities, and analytical skills. However, for preschoolers, learning math can be difficult. It’s a lot easier when you present it in a fun and engaging way to learn mathematical concepts.

Enter, the Missing Numbers experiment!

The Missing Numbers experiment is a simple and fun activity that involves writing the missing number in a sequence.

You will have a set of numbers in a sequence, but some of them will be missing. Your preschooler’s task is to figure out what the missing number is and fill it in. This activity is an excellent way for preschoolers to learn the basics of counting, number recognition, and sequencing.

How to make the Missing Numbers math experiment

Supplies you will need

For this experiment, you will need the following:

  • Pen or marker
  • Paper
  • Optional: scissors
Supplies for the Missing Numbers math experiment

Before you start

If your child is not able to write yet, no worries! You can write out numbers on the paper, cut them out, and have your child choose from the pile of extra numbers to complete the sequence.

My daughter is still learning how to write. First, I had her identify the missing number by saying it, then we tried to write it. If she had problems, I would write out the number in dots (I’ll show that below) so she could follow the dots to write the number.

Instructions

Here is how to do the Missing Numbers experiment with your toddler:

Step 1: Start with a simple sequence

Starting with a simple sequence, like removing one number

To build their confidence, start with a very simple sequence. Think 1, 2, 3, _, 5 then have them write in the missing number.

If they are still learning how to write numbers, you can write the number in dots (after your child has identified the missing number!) and have them trace the dots.

If your child can write but needs help, it may help to draw the number in dots (after your child has identified the missing number!) and have them trace it

Again, if they are not ready to try to write the number, you could write and cut out each number, create the sequence with the missing number, and have them choose from the leftover pile of numbers what fits into the sequence.

If your child cannot write just yet, write and cut out the numbers to be used for the experiment

Step 2: Remove more numbers from the sequence

Increasing the difficulty by removing more than one number in a simple sequence

Next, we’re going to increase the difficulty!

Remove two numbers from the sequence and have them fill in the gaps. If it seems overwhelming, have them try to focus on one missing number at a time (ideally, the first missing number in the sequence).

Step 3: If they’re able, change the sequence to count by 10s

Trying out skip counting

Many kids learn how to count by 10s as their first skip-counting exercise. If your child has learned another skip count (like by 5s), use that sequence instead!

The idea here is to bump up the difficulty by showing them something other than a simple 1-2-3 sequence.

The math behind the Missing Numbers math experiment

This experiment teaches:

  • Counting and number recognition
  • Sequencing and patterns
  • Problem-solving and critical thinking

How it works

This simple activity packs a punch of knowledge! It’s an easy way to teach your preschooler different math topics while making it a fun game.

Having your preschooler fill in a sequence goes far beyond just numbers. It also serves as a hidden lesson in patterns and boosts their problem-solving skills.

Counting and number recognition

By filling in the missing numbers, preschoolers are practicing their counting skills and learning to recognize numbers. As they become more comfortable with the activity, they can start to recognize patterns in number sequences, which is an important foundation for later math skills.

In this experiment, we also have unlimited opportunities to increase the difficulty for our preschoolers!

We start with a very basic sequence (1-2-3), but you are able to increase the difficulty as far as you need to in order to give your child a good mind stretch with this activity.

Sequencing and patterns

The Missing Numbers experiment also helps preschoolers learn about sequencing and patterns. They learn to identify the order in which numbers appear and to predict what number comes next in a sequence. This is an important skill for understanding more complex patterns in math and other subjects.

Problem-solving and critical thinking

The Missing Numbers experiment requires preschoolers to use problem-solving and critical thinking skills to fill in the missing numbers. They must use logic and reasoning to determine what number belongs in the blank space. This helps them develop important cognitive skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.

Related math experiments to try out with your child

FAQ about the Missing Numbers math experiment

Why is the Missing Numbers experiment a good way to teach math skills to my preschooler?

This experiment not only teaches your preschooler how to recognize numbers and sequences, it also teaches your child about building patterns, and how to problem solve, and it builds their cognitive skills.

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