Eleven (11) is a weird number. It is two ones, but is not 1+1=2. The number eleven is by far the largest block for young children learning math. The operations and language contained in eleven are the greatest, untaken chance for preschoolers. Learning the operations of 10 plus 1..2..3…works only if children have the framework for place to go beyond to eleven and twelve. This requires language congruence. In classrooms that count out songs to 10, the abstract concept of numbers does not prepare children for passage through the mental blocks of 11 and 12. Yes, counting to 12 on fingers is tricky. But still, you have time without fingers where counting is present. These are the times to extend just 2 numbers. After that it is three-ten, four-ten, five-ten. The teens are named similarly enough for the concept of 10 and a known lower number. Basic operations stem from series, place holders, and more sensical naming on the way to twenty and a hundred.
I had the opportunity to engage a preschool boy in a number line recently. He was interested enough to follow along with my questions. We got to 10. “What’s next?” I asked. His shook his head. Then I said “next is eleven, eleven is a funny number”. Then the incredulous look back at me. I continued “and after eleven is twelve, then three-ten, four-teen, five-ten, six-teen” and then the light came on for him. The language of math’s numbers made sense and he was on his way to understand place holders. I look forward to following his growing number sense.
Constructing a number comes before deconstructing it through subtraction and division. Our preschoolers can hold onto memorizing the next two numbers. To have 12 fingers would help. Ironically, having 6 fingers per hand is a dominant genetic trait. Beyond 11, our preschoolers need the number 12 too so they may experience success using the US standard system of measurement. The ability to break a dozen into threes and fours has context in a preschool classroom. I dare say that number sense to deal in groups of 3 and 4 is the key part of math-readiness. Making groups of our classmates and snack plates is one natural way to teach this. Involving number sense past 11 in fun settings with enthusiasm about math makes it completely possible for the intentional early childhood education professional to create math whizzes. For more on contextual math in your classroom