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Place Value one and tens

Developing the concept and understanding of place value: ones and tens through play.

It is important for children to experience place value through play with concrete objects. At school we use base 10 equipment, but it is easy to make materials at home in their place by using items such as counters, plastic poker chips, dried pasta, beans or lollipop sticks. These activities really help children become secure with the concept of place value.


Our number system works on a hierarchy of 10. You can never have 10 (you always need to move up a number hierarchy). Start off with a small object (tiny macaroni, bean etc.) to represent the value of a one. Count out 9 ones and when you reach 10 stop and say ‘oh no we can’t have 10 we will have to go to the bank.’ Use 1 larger object to represent the value of 10 and exchange it for the 10 smaller items (e.g. swap 10 small macaroni for a large piece or penne or fusilli! or green counters for red counters etc.). Call this new object 10 and -then add one more of the smaller object (macaroni) saying ‘and one more is 11’. Keep adding ones and counting until you have 10 ones repeat the whole scenario ‘oh no we can’t have 10’ and swap for a second larger object. Now we have 2 tens. Continue adding ones and each time you reach 10 swap for an object the value of 10. (You can also play with lollipop sticks or toothpicks and every time you count 10 put them in a bundle with an elastic band around them.)


Bank Game:

The next step is to play the bank game. This is a great game that you can also play with younger brothers and sisters who can count to 10. Place your supply of ones and tens (whichever items you have chosen) somewhere in the room. Then sitting with your child ask them to go the bank and fetch a quantity. I.e. 2 tens and 5 ones (nursery and reception children should be able to join in at this level with a little support). You can then question your year 1 child about the number they bring back and they should be able to say its value of 25.


  • Once familiar with this level of game introduce the written number. Give your child the number 36 written on paper and send them off to the bank.  Year 1 children are already using written numbers to 50 and above.
  • You could compare numbers by deciding which sibling has more and who has less etc.
  • You can add two 2 digit numbers quite easily by counting all the ones together exchanging 10 each time. This is providing them a concrete experience necessary for when they will be doing column addition in year 3 (do not introduce this method now but rather focus on developing concrete concepts).
  • You can continue by introducing larger objects to represent 100’s and 1000’s as the only knowledge needed is the ability to count to 10 and recognise each of the numerals 1-10.
  • It might make it easier to colour code  written numbers such as this 4 32

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