Being able to count one more and one less is a key concept in children’s mathematical development.
In my twenty-year teaching career, I have seen the importance of young children first grasping how to count by rote in sequence before then moving on to learning one more or one less. (Source)
It can sometimes take a while to grasp this new concept, so be patient and don’t worry if they don’t get it straight away.
The best way forward is to provide lots of games to practice this concept and make sure that the children have lots of fun without even realizing they’re learning!
In my time as both a teacher and now an advisor, I have tried maybe at least one hundred strategies to teach children the concept of one more and one less.
Out of all those activities, I have chosen my all-time favorites for this article. Here are the ultimate 14 one more and one less activities to get children confidently understanding applying this concept:
1. Number Lines
For this activity, you need a large and bright number line.
Every setting should have a number line displayed somewhere so that the children are able to see large numbers on a daily basis.
This really helps with recognition and familiarity, but when I visit settings in my capacity as an advisor, I’m always surprised by how many settings can overlook this.
You can use bright and colorful numbers or make your own number lines based on your current theme or your children’s current interest.
Some examples of number lines:
In fact anything…Just draw, stencil, or cut out large numbers on the theme of your choice.
Next, you need to hang up your number line. I’ve always found a washing line and pegs work best here, strung across a large space so that the numbers can be moved around by you and the children.
Playing with numbers in this way also helps children to become familiar with them.
If you are going to use a number line outside, make sure your numbers are laminated and always aim for child height so that the children can experiment with sequencing numbers themselves.
Once you’ve got your number line in place the fun can begin.
The best way to get children familiar with numbers and secure in recognizing them is to give daily practice at counting up and down the line forwards and backward.
I like to use a magic wand to point out the numbers as the children chant them.
Next, I introduce a puppet. You can experiment again here – Use whatever works best for the current group of children you have? Do they prefer a sock puppet, a finger puppet? I used a big crow puppet with dangly yellow legs and a funny voice – Experiment and be playful.
2. Puppet Jumps
Let your puppet count with the children up the number line. Pause at a number and tell the children he’s forgotten the name of the number that comes next. Ask the children the name of the number that is one more. The puppet can nod or shake his head.
You can repeat this daily with different numbers and then move on to one less.
Once the children are confident you can extend to 2 more / 2 less and so on…
I like to make sure the puppet is available to the children so that they can practice counting on and back themselves in the continuous provision.
3. Snack Time Number
This is a perfect time to practice counting out one more and one less in a real-life context. Let the children take turns as the helper and to give out the snack.
Here are some ways to develop one more / less.
Cut up fruit into slices/segments. Ask the helper to count out a number of pieces (you can make this any number depending on the stage of the children) For example, If they count out 4 pieces of apple, ask them to add one more.
You can also do this by building fruit kebabs. Ask the children to thread fruit slices onto a skewer, then add one more apple, one more banana, one more kiwi, etc.
You can continue this theme by asking a child to count out the cups for their table. Make sure you give one less or one more than needed for the table and see if the child can ask for one more or tell you they need one less.
For similar mathematical concept ideas try some of these –https://www.education.vic.gov.au/parents/learning/Pages/numeracy-birth-year-2.aspx
4. Target Practice
This is a great way to practice maths skills, and it also develops physical skills, which we are all now aware, are a pre-cursor to children’s future academic success.
Use a hoop if you have one, but don’t worry if you haven’t, you can easily adapt this by drawing circles on the yard or on the floor with chalk.
Give the children bean bags and ask them to stand behind a line a suitable distance away from the circle.
Set a timer and Ready, Steady, Go! – Throw the beanbags into the hoops.
You can set a timer and ask them to hit a target of one more than 6 beanbags in the circle. (Again you can adapt the numbers depending on the age and stage of the children you are with).
Count out the beanbags that landed in the circle and see if they made 7.
You can do also do this game with an improvised dartboard – Draw a circle on the wall and divide it into sections (like a very simple dartboard) Write numbers in the circle.
Start with one to five, then ask the children to hit one more than…. So if you say one more than 5 they have to try and hit 6.
Depending on how confident the children are with their throwing skills, you can experiment with:
plastic flow balls,
Recycled newspaper and elastic band balls
5. Relay Race
Set up two chalkboards (or other mark-making opportunities) a distance of at least 6 meters between them.
Again, this is as adaptable as you need it to be. If you are working with older children you may want to use the whole schoolyard.
Explain that the children are going to race between the boards and pass the chalk or whiteboard marker to their friend, like in an Olympic relay race.
Start with a number that matches the skills of the children. For example, if they can write numbers to 10, write 2 on the board.
Set your timer and Ready…Steady…Go!
One child runs to write one more so if you started with two, they have to race to the board and write number three, pass the chalk to their friend and they have to run back and write number four, and so on.
You can adapt this activity for older children too. My class of seven-year-olds loved playing this game with numbers up to 100.
When the children are confident with one more, change to one less and start again with a relay countdown race.
You can either race against a stopwatch or you can race against another team.
6. Hook A Duck
This is loads of fun! Set up a water tray with some plastic or rubber ducks in it.
On the base of every duck, draw numbers (again, use numbers that the children are confident counting by rote and sequencing). I like to old use nail polish to write the numbers with as it is waterproof.
On the top of every duck, screw a hook in. (Most DIY stores sell these in the curtain section). Then screw another hook into the end of a bamboo stick. You now have a fairground stall – Hook a Duck.
Ask the children to roll up and play!
Tell the children that they are looking for a number one more than five and one less than seven. If they hook number five, they win and they can choose the next number to find.
7. Fishing Games
This game is very similar to Hook a Duck, but instead of using the ducks, use magnetic fish and fishing rods.
You can also write numbers on pebbles (again, get the old nail polish out) and use fishing nets to scoop up the pebbles to find one more than or one less.
I used to like to have a laminated number line next to the water tray so that the children can match their number when they pull it out of the water.
8. Treasure Hunt
You need a clear, contained space for this activity. If you have an enclosed playground or outdoor area, that would be perfect.
Prepare some numbers.
These could be magnetic numbers, number tiles, flash cards, or foam numbers. In fact, anything you have to hand. The first time you play this, hide the numbers in the area.
Aim to hide some numbers high and some low. Don’t make it too easy!
Tell the children you need them to find the number that is one less than twelve, for example. Let them search the area until they find number eleven.
The child that finds number eleven is then the leader, and they decide which number to find next, so encourage them to say “I want you to find one less than….”
When they’ve got the hang of it, you can ask them to find two more than and so on. Eventually, they can set up their own number hunt.
9. Setting Up Shop
Most children love playing shop so this is a lovely way of developing math in a real-life context.
Set up a simple role-play shop. This could be linked to a theme, for example:
A fruit and veg shop
A garden center
A second-hand clothes shop
A sports shop
Provide some wallets, bags and purses and lots of 1p pieces (you can buy plastic money but I prefer to use the real thing).
A toy cash register is a great resource if you have one, but don’t worry if you haven’t – just use a box or a jar.
Explain to the children that all the items in the shop need a price and ask them to help you write price tags. 1p, 2p, 3p etc.
Now all you have to do is play shop. Model to the children how to buy and sell the items, counting out the pennies as you do so.
This is good practice for counting out up to a given number and we call this conservation of number.
When the children understand how to count out 3p for example, you can have a sale and ask them to count out 1p less, or 2p less. You can ask them to put their prices up by crossing out the price and writing 1p more.
10. Burst The Balloon
This is like a party game and I admit it can get a bit rowdy, but that’s all part of the fun. Blow up a packet of balloons and write numbers on them with a marker.
Play some music and encourage the children to dance.
When the music stops, the first person to find one more than seven …. Or one less than three, on a balloon has to show everyone and then burst the balloon.
Keep playing until all the balloons have been burst. A good one for the end of term!
11. Baking Day
There are countless maths concepts to be found in cooking and baking with young children.
I have visited several schools lately that have set up kitchen areas within all their classroom areas, up to Year 6, as the children are getting so much learning out of regular cookery activities.
Just think of the real-life opportunities in making simple biscuits or cakes. Weighing out the ingredients alone is perfect for asking for one more or one less.
Rolling out the dough and cutting out a specific number of circles, is not only shape recognition and practice in counting, there are lots of natural opportunities to ask for one more and one less.
When the cakes/biscuits are cooked, you can ice and decorate them – again, the possibilities are endless to add one more cherry, one less raison, one more spoonful of icing…this should all be done in as natural a real-life context as possible, after all, that’s the reason we want children to be able to use number concepts.
12. Teddy Bear’s Picnic
Encourage the children to lay out a picnic for their teddy bear.
This is a good game to encourage counting out, but you can also incorporate one more and one less naturally into the game.
If you don’t have a picnic basket, no problem – you can use plastic or even paper plates and cups on a blanket or rug.
Ask the children to give the teddies one plate each and one cup each. This is a great game for teaching one-to-one correspondence, and you can extend it to add sandwiches, pieces of fruit, cakes, buns, or anything else you like.
As you are playing, ask the children for one more cup, one more sandwich, and when the teddies are full, they can take the food and plates away, saying one less.
13. Everyday Tasks
I’ve always found the best way to teach number concepts is to provide lots of real-life contexts.
If you think about it, there are hundreds of opportunities to talk about one more and one less in the course of a day.
Here are just a few ways you can encourage your child to help you at home whilst learning how to add one more or one less:
- Load the washing machine together, encouraging one more shirt, one less towel, one more scoop of washing powder.
- Peg the washing out, asking for one more sock, one less peg.
- Clean the bath or shower together saying one more scrub, one less germ.
- Set the table for tea and ask for one more spoon, one less fork, for example
- Count the stairs as you climb them, saying one more than three is four, one more than four is five, and on the way down, one less than twelve is eleven, one less than eleven is ten, etc.
- As you walk down the road together, spot numbers on the doors of buildings. See if they can spot one more than ten. Can they find house number eleven?
14. Listen And Wait
This is a lovely activity for improving concentration, waiting your turn, and as a bonus, it also teaches one more and one less.
Ask the children to sit in a circle so they can all see each other.
Explain they are going to say one more until you get to a given number, for example, 10.
Only one person can speak. If two children say a number at the same time, you have to go back to the beginning and start again. It usually takes a few go’s but really improves listening skills.
When they are able to get to 10, try saying one less. If they can do that easily, try adding in an instrument to beat at the same time.
There are lots more musical ideas on the site:
I hope that’s given you lots of ideas.
Remember to keep having fun! If you do, it will really make a difference.