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What are ten frames? (And how they help your child make sense of numbers)

What are ten frames? (And how they help your child make sense of numbers).

Ten frames are so helpful to young children beginning to build number sense. This post will tell you why!

If you’re a parent of a small child who is learning math at preschool or kindergarten, you may have come across ten frames.

For many parents this may be a new term that you’ve not heard of before. If so, worry not.

This post will explain what ten frames are and why they’re so valuable when it comes to young children learning and making sense of numbers.

Plus, this post will also give you ideas and resources for using ten frames with your own child at home.

Let’s get cracking!

What is a ten frame?

A ten frame is a rectangular frame divided into ten individual boxes. The boxes are arranged in 2 rows of 5.

Numbers to 10 can be shown in a ten frame by putting one dot or counter in each box.

For example, this ten frame shows the number 5:

ten frame representing the number 5

Why use ten frames?

There are lots of reasons why ten frames are such a helpful tool when it comes to building number sense in young children. Here are just some:

1. Ten is a magic number

Ours is a base ten number system – it all revolves around the number 10. Ten frames (as the name suggests) help children see numbers within the context of ten.

Being confident with and being able to work flexibly with the number 10 will help children in so many areas of math as they go forward.

2. Ten frames help children ‘see’ numbers

When young children start working on numbers to 10, so often they begin by learning to recite the numbers in order and say their names.

One of the reasons ten frames are so useful is that they provide a visual representation of a number and show its value.

They help children to develop a much deeper understanding of numbers than just memorizing their names and order.

By working with numbers in ten frames, children can see the amount of dots that a number stands for. They can also investigate patterns and groupings within the dots.

All these things help to build number sense.

3. They help with number bonds, addition and subtraction

Ten frames are great for helping children understand and learn their number bonds to 10.

When we talk about number bonds to 10, we are looking at how 10 can be broken down into pairs of numbers that total 10, such as 3 and 7, or 9 and 1. (You can read more about number bonds here).

This idea is particularly well demonstrated by a ten frame. For example, let’s show 7 in a ten frame:

Ten frame showing the number 7

We can see that there are 3 empty squares in the ten frame.

By filling in those 3 remaining gaps to make a full ten frame, we can see that 7 + 3 = 10 (a full ten frame):

For many children, ‘seeing’ the number bond rather than just memorising pairs of numbers in an abstract way helps the number bonds make more sense (and for many children it also makes them much easier to remember).

Plus, ten frames make a nice introduction to addition and subtraction fact families. From the ten frame above we can see that not only does 7 + 3 = 10, but also:

3 + 7 = 10

10 – 3 = 7, and

10 – 7 = 3.

4. They build a good foundation for place value

Being able to see how numbers are arranged in terms of tens leads on really well to place value work and is great for introducing the teen numbers.

For example, if we look at the number 16 shown in a ten frame, it’s easy to see that this number is made up of one group of ten (i.e. one complete ten frame) and 6 additional ones.

ten frames showing the number 16

5. Ten frames help develop subitizing skills

“What on earth is ‘subitizing’?”, I hear you ask.

Subitizing means that you can tell how many objects there are without having to count each individual one.

So for example when you roll a dice, you can tell what number you have rolled without having to count each dot on the dice.

Young children start out by having to count each individual object. As they develop, they begin to be able to ‘see’ a group of 2 or of 3 without having to count each object.

By working with ten frames a child gets a chance to develop their subitizing skills.

So there you go! Who knew the little old ten frame could have so much going for it?!

And now you know why they’re so important, we will turn our attention to how to practise them.

How you can help your child get to grips with ten frames

If you’re working on numbers to 10 with your child, be sure to include some ten frames.

Here are some things you can try:

1. Make your own ten frame

If your child is new to ten frames, a fun way to start is by exploring ten them in a hands-on way.

Draw out a ten frame on a big piece of paper or whiteboard.

Next grab some items you can place inside the ten frame. If you don’t have counters or any math manipulatives, you could use something from around the house: toy cars, blocks, stuffies or something along those lines. As an example, we’ve used our menagerie of small plastic animals!

Have your child choose a number and then show it in the frame by placing one counter/object per square, filling the top row first.

For example, let’s show the number 4:

Next (and if your child is itching to get their hands on the plastic toys) you could challenge your child to put those 4 objects in a different pattern within the ten frame.

Next, ask your child if they see any empty squares in the ten frame. How many more objects you would we need to add to make 10?

Help your child count the empty squares to see how many more animals would be needed to make a full ten frame. See if you’re right by filling in the spaces with more animals until the ten frame is full.

Another thing you could do is take it in turns to make a number on the ten frame and then have the other person say what number they see. This gives your child practice at both constructing numbers in the ten frame and also recognising them.

Although these activities are quick and simple things to try, hands-on math like this is really important. It’s a way for young children to make sense of new math ideas by ‘doing’.

2. Free ten frame game

Games are a great way to practise important math skills in a fun way. After all, you won’t find many young children who don’t like to play the odd game or two.

To help my own child with ten frames, I put together this fun ten frame math game.

Printable ten frames math game

This game is for two players and you don’t need any extra equipment (you won’t even need to scour the house looking for a dice!)

To read more about how to play this game and to download your own printable copy of the this game, click over to this post HERE.

3. Puzzles or matching activities involving ten frames

Finally, matching activities/puzzles make great number sense activities. They lend themselves really well to showing numbers being represented in different ways, such as ten frames, numerals, words or tally marks.

They also make for a really fun way for young children to learn math and they don’t require any writing.

Completed butterfly numbers activity for preschool and kindergarten

You can find ten frame puzzles in the Math, Kids and Chaos store, including this butterfly numbers activity for numbers 1 to 10.

A perfect math activity for spring and summer.

As well as ten frames, this activity also gets children practising numbers names, tally marks and counting skills.

And that’s it for ten frames today. Hope this post has been helpful.

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