To learn addition

What is addition and how do children learn how to add?

Addition is one of the four basic arithmetic operators and is often expressed with the plus sign (+). In speech we often use “plus” to describe addition, to add the value of two or more numbers to a sum. Addition is usually the first arithmetic operation we learn after having learned to count.

But how do children go from learning how to count to understand the connection between counting and addition?

Develop the addition ability

The precursor to learning addition is, as mentioned above, learning to count. Often counting starts out as a fun activity we do with our children, where the child will say numbers and arithmetic words, such as “plus”. But the relationship between counting and addition isn’t usually clear cut in the beginning and so it’s a good idea to ask “how many?” after having counted a specific amount of, say, crayons.

By asking questions like “how many” after having counted items, we help children see the connection between addition and counting.

Another simple example of how to connect counting to addition is to let your child jump up and down while counting 1,2,3… When they’re done jumping, ask the question “how many times did you jump?”. By facilitating these types of connections for the child, they start learning the relationship between counting and addition.

Introduce the formal symbols

Children need to learn, handle and explore all the steps in the different phases of addition before we start using the formal symbols (+ – =). It’s a good idea to wait with introducing the symbols until the child is mature enough to understand them, so as to not hinder and complicate learning.

Four different phases for addition:

  1. When a child wants to find out how many balls are in a collection, for example two groups or 4 and 6, they’ll first count four and then six and then they’ll start counting all the balls again as a group: 1,2,3,4…10. Every object is counted one by one.
  2. After a time they learn to start counting the balls from 4 to count to 10.
  3. Following this, they learn to start counting from the largest number, counting from 6 to 10, and in this way shortens the process.
  4. Eventually they understand and use the formal symbols (+=).

A great tip for teaching children addition

Find some items, for example pieces of pasta or building blocks. Find and display 6 items, eg. blocks. How many blocks are there? Add one or two more blocks. How many are there now? Ask the kids to count out loud and pay attention to how they count. Do they start from 1 each time or do they start from 6? Keep adding blocks.

Read more articles about math.