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Kindergarten Number Combinations and Fact Fluency

In the landscape of early childhood education, the significance of learning number combinations through 10 in kindergarten cannot be overstated. While it might seem like just one of many skills taught in kindergarten, this foundational step plays a crucial role in setting students up to develop fluency in addition and subtraction as they progress. Let’s explore why mastering these combinations is an essential cornerstone in a child’s mathematical journey.

Be sure to check out the links throughout this post for more information and access to numerous free downloads.

the role of number combinations

Kindergarten serves as the launching pad for a child’s mathematical exploration. Through activities, games, and interactive learning experiences, children begin to understand the relationships between numbers. Learning number combinations isn’t just about memorizing facts; it’s about grasping the underlying concepts of addition and subtraction, fostering flexibility with numbers.

Fluency in mathematics is akin to fluency in language โ€“ it’s the ability to recall facts efficiently and accurately. When children effortlessly recall basic addition and subtraction facts, they can focus their cognitive resources on higher-order problem-solving tasks. But fluency doesn’t mean rote memorization. Mastering number combinations sets the stage for achieving fluency in addition and subtraction facts through a strategy-based approach.

strategies for developing fluency with number combinations

While the standards use the term number combinations you may be more familiar with term number bonds. Below, you see a common graphic used to represent a number bond. You may see number bonds formatted in different ways, but what all the representations have in common is they show the whole and the two parts. In this case, five is the whole and 2 and 3 are the parts.

a number bond diagram showing a number combination for 5

Concrete and pictorial experiences are a must when introducing number combinations. Manipulatives, like ten-frames with counters or linking cubes, are perfect tools, and they should be used prior to introducing the number bond graphic. You just want students to understand that a larger number contains parts, Provide pairs of students with 10 linking cubes. I always like students working in pairs so they can engage in mathematical conversations. It also reduces the amount of manipulatives you’ll need. Assigning the partners names, like peanut butter and jelly, allows you to easily indicate roles. So, for example, you might ask the peanut butter partner to build a tower of 5 with the linking cubes. Then ask the jelly partner to break the tower into two parts. Introduce the words part and whole. So the whole is five, because our tower had 5 cubes, but we broke the whole into parts. Ask students to put the parts back together. The parts, 2 and 3, make up the whole. Notice that I didn’t tell the students how to break the tower. That’s intentional! Some might break it into 2 and 3, while others break it into 1 and 4. Over time, you can begin to use the words compose (put the parts together to make the whole) and decompose (break the whole into parts).

activity for introducing number combinations in kindergarten


It’s important to note that in kindergarten, teaching number combinations isn’t a one-time lesson; it’s a year-long process. Throughout the school year, your students will be exploring and mastering combinations for numbers up to ten through a variety of differentiated activities. Remember, each child progresses at their own pace. Some may move through the combinations quickly, while others may need more time and support. Check out this post for information on assessing number combinations and for links to several practice games.

For practice to be most effective, students should be practicing with their target number. Bears in the Cave Shake and Spill is an example of a game that can be easily differentiated. Prepare bags numbered from 5 to 10, each containing the number of teddy bear counters indicated on the label. When students visit the workstation, they grab the bag for the number they are working on. That might be a bag with 5 bears or one with 8 or even 10. It’s whatever their target number is. The game is played exactly the same, regardless of the number of counters used. Players put the target number of teddy bear counters in a cup, shake the cup, and spill the bears on the mat. Some bears will fall “in” the cave and some will fall “outside” the cave. Be sure that it’s an expectation that students will verbalize their result: Four bears in the cave, 2 outside the cave, 4 and 2 make 6.

kindergarten game for practicing number combinations

Grab the Bears in the Cave Shake and Spill download here.

Kindergarten number combinations are the bedrock of math fluency, providing students with essential skills for success in addition and subtraction. By offering differentiated activities and personalized support, you can ensure that every child thrives in their mathematical journey. With a strong foundation in number combinations, students are equipped to tackle more complex mathematical concepts with confidence and enthusiasm.

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