Place value

Family Math Activity: Practice Place Value During Recess!

Esta actividad también is available in Spanish.

As children gain an understanding of numbers and how quantities change, they begin to learn the basics of place value. Developing an understanding of place value in the early years helps them develop problem-solving skills and in-depth mathematical knowledge. In this fun family math game, kids will explore place value by assembling and breaking down numbers into ‘tens’ and ‘ones’.

Learning more about place value can be fun with this easy-to-do chart. | Yesenia Prieto

First, let’s take a look at two key terms: “digits” and “place value”. A figure is a single number symbol, from zero to 9, used to make digits (or numbers). For example, the number 15 consists of two digits (“1” and “5”). Position value is the value represented by a digit according to its position in a digit. For example, in the number 15, 1 is in place of “tens”, which means that it represents 10 ones, and 5 is in the place of “ones”, which means that it represents five ones. This concept can be particularly difficult for young children to understand since they see the world in concrete terms.

Learning goals

  • Understand that numbers are symbols and represent real things
  • Use objects to compose and decompose numbers into “tens” and “ones”
  • Record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or an equation (for example 10 + 5 = 15)
  • Practice number recognition, counting and one-on-one matching
A sheet of paper divided into two columns with the headings "tens" and "those" with beads, pipe cleaners, pieces of string and a marker on it.
All you need for this activity is a piece of paper, pipe cleaners, beads, and a marker. | Yesenia Prieto


  • Place value table (you can draw your own place value table on a sheet of paper; just divide the paper into two columns and write “tens” in the left column and “ones” in the right column)
  • A dice (here is a video on how to make one out of paper)
  • Pipe cleaners (or straws, string, etc.)
  • Beads or other object that can be threaded onto the pipe cleaners (for example, cereal loops)

Step by step instructions

  1. Go over the characteristics of the dice with your child and explain which number represents each side of the dice.
  2. Roll the dice and place this number of beads in the “one” column.
  3. If column “one” has 10 or more beads, group the beads into a set of 10 by threading 10 beads onto a pipe cleaner. Now place the pipe cleaner with the 10 balls in the “tens” column.
  4. After each roll, count the number of objects in the “tens” and “ones” columns and write or draw the number equation on a piece of paper (for example, 1 in the “tens” column is 10 and 2 in the “tens” column. “Ones” column is 2, 10 + 2 = 12).
  5. Keep rolling the dice and writing the equation. The object of the game is to reach the number 20.

Continue the conversation

  • As you play the game, ask your child questions that help them understand math (p.How many pearls do you have? How many more does it take to make a group of 10? Can you tell me how you know it?).
  • You can also use the place value table to demonstrate that the numbers 11 through 19 are made up of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight or nine ones.

Suggestions for books

  • “The Chicken Problem” by Jennifer Oxley and Billy Aronson
  • “A fair share of bears” by Stuart J. Murphy

Online games

Curious George Museum of Tens

Head Start or CCSS-M: K supervision

Work with the numbers 11-19 to learn the basics of place value. CCSS.MATH.CONTENU.K.NBT.A.1