What is Subitizing?

03:54

Subitizing can be basically summed up as the ability to instantly recognise "how many". Be it objects, money or spots on a die, the instant perception of 'how many' is extremely helpful in everyday life, in fact we are probably completely unaware of how often we, as adults, use subitizing.


Amazingly, some animals have shown the ability to subitize but this by no means makes it an easy process. In order to understand why some types of subitizing are easy for children to pick up, we must first recognise the two different types of subitizing; perceptual and conceptual.




Perceptual subitizing

Perceptual subitizing is the recognition of an amount or a number without needed to count or mentally group it. Children as young as two often subitize numbers up to 3. This is often seen as a more primitive response, which is why we can observe this type of subitizing in animals.

Conceptual subitizing

Conceptual subitizing is the recognition of number patterns in groups and as a whole of its groups. This type of subitizing is usually an extension of the learned skill of counting. A good example of this type of subitizing is a domino with eight spots. We recognise it as two groups of four with a sum total of eight. 

The specific spatial arrangement of dots makes it easier or harder to subitize with rectangular formations being considered the easiest. It is interesting to note, however, that when shown four or less spots - children do not show any increased or reduced ability regardless of arrangement.

So..... can subitizing be taught?

Well, while the jury is still out on whether mathematics as a whole can really be "taught", we can do our best to foster the desire to learn and aid in this learning by providing a rich and stimulating environment, filled with experiences, discussion, investigations and as much or a little help as the individual needs.

While perceptual subitizing is not something we can teach, there is plenty evidence that we can help guide the experience of learning conceptual subitizing based on the ability of each child.

A simple game to play with children is to hold up a flashcard briefly with a certain amount of dots, hearts, cakes etc (try to appeal to the specific child or group of children - the more fun the better!) and ask them to hold up the corresponding number of fingers. 

On a one to one basis you could use regular size dominos or dice to practice. In a bigger group you could use "oversized" dominos and large foam or cardboard dice and have the children take it in turns to role the dice or pick the dominos for the others. 

I hope this has given you a better understanding of subitizing, if you weren't a hundred percent sure before, and if you were - I'd love to hear how you help your students or children, and your thoughts and ideas!

by ZippadeeZazz

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