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Lockdown Day 76 – Number Bonds

Numeracy and Arithmetic

There are so many foundational skills required for an ‘easy’ future in Maths. Too often, we move the children too quickly to pen and paper tasks. This requires a level of cognitive abstraction that the children may not yet have, and thus creates pockets of misunderstanding which will continue to plague the children as they try to build a solid mathematical base.


Number bonds are in an important foundational concept that provide children with an understanding of how numbers work, and lay the foundation for essential later mental maths problem-solving strategies. It is definitely worth investing time and effort in playing these simple games with your preschool children.

* What is a number bond?

Simply stated, a number bond is a pair of numbers that add up to another number. Number bonds are also referred to as number ‘pairs’. They illustrate how numbers can be joined together or broken down into component parts, which is an important foundation for later addition and subtraction.

* Examples of Number Bonds

Let’s start with the number 10. The number bonds for 10 are: 9+1, 8+2, 7+3, 6+4, and 5+5. When children explore the number bonds of 10, they develop an understanding of what Piaget termed ‘conservation’. They begin got understand that there can be different relationships of numbers within 10 and that any which way that these numbers are grouped, or related, they will still equal 10. In other words, the number bond of 8+2 is conserved within 10 (as is 6+4, 5+5, 9+1 etc).

As children arrange these number bonds in a concrete manner with manipulatives, they will also self-discover what Piaget termed as ‘reversibility’. In the same way to that 6+4 = 10, so does 4+6=10!

This understanding further allows children to explore the conservation and reversibility aspects of addition and subtraction (and much later, multiplication and division). If 6 plus 4 equals 10, then 10 minus 6 must equal 4, and 10 minus 4 equal 6!

Maths approached in this manner then becomes a very simple set of patterns and relationships which can be easily understood, rather than having to be drilled and memorised.

The biggest mistake we make with children is to try and teach these concepts on a worksheet, which does not allow the child to form any type of connection with this learning. The easiest way to teach number bonds is to use simple games that relate to the child’s age and level of understanding.

* Number Bond Game Ideas

The easiest way to teach number bonds is to use simple games that relate to the child’s age and level of understanding. The child will obviously first need to know how to count. See our Lockdown Tips 20, 27, 34, 41, 48, 55 and 62 for suggestions.

When playing these games with younger children, you may wish to start with a smaller beginning set of perhaps 5, and with older children start with a set of 10.



To discover the number bonds for 5, lay out five of the same object in a line. This can be anything you have in the house from Lego bricks, to blocks, to buttons, to beans!

Invite the child to count the objects from left to right.

Now separate the objects by moving some of the objects slightly over to the right, thereby creating a gap in the line. In this example, we will move 2 objects to the right.

Ask the child to count the objects on the left – 3. Now ask the child to count the objects on the right – 2. Then ask the child to count all the objects together again – 5. Tell the child that 3 objects and 2 objects is the same as 5 objects. Repeat this for the other bonds. Invite the child to make up her/his own bonds too. This type of play leads to an addition equation (3+2=5).

When the child has had some practice with this, you can change your line of questioning by starting with the number of objects on the mat (5) and moving 3 to the right. You can then say: “We had 5 objects and I have moved 3 away. How many objects do I have left?” This leads to a subtraction equation (5-3=2).



Once children have had a good foundation of understanding with the concrete games detailed above, you can slowly start to move this knowledge into more abstract thinking.

– Ask the children to help you lay the table for (for example) 5 people, but only give them 3 plates. Ask the children to calculate how many plates they are short of. This will lead them to mentally calculating 5-3=2.

– Decide on a number between 6 and 10. Roll a dice, and ask the child to count the value on the dice and calculate the missing number to make up the number bond. For example – you have chosen the number 9 and the child rolls a 6. What is the number that is missing to make the number bond? The child will be led to calculate 9-6=3, or perhaps even ask the question “What number must I put with 6 to make it equal to 9?” This is also known as gapped addition: 6+?=9.


Remember to make this a FUN activity!

Find all of our lockdown tips here –