Tips to Teach Ordinal Numbers to Preschoolers

For most students in kindergarten, counting is a really hard concept that they still struggle with. This can make it difficult for them to understand the teacher’s meaning when they ask “how many” or “what number.” It can also be confusing when the numbers are arranged in sequence because today is three, yesterday four, and tomorrow is five. Teaching ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd) to preschoolers has been proven to help struggling students learn more easily as they age. However, if you are planning on teaching concepts of ordinal numbers at home with your child and are unsure where to start—don’t worry! We’ve got some tips for teaching ordinal numbers from experience.

8 Tips to Teach Ordinal Numbers to Preschoolers

1. When Teaching Number Sequences, Start With the First

Teaching ordinal numbers, you are going to want to start with “1st” and “2nd” (or “1st” and “3rd”). When teaching students a number sequence, it is important to start with the number one. The other numbers will become easy after the one. For example, if you start with the three, they will automatically think twice. 

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If they think twice, they are going to imagine that five is just like that twice and that six will be like five times three (or four times two). This might seem like an obvious tip but starting first can also be beneficial in other ways.

2. Don’t Forget to Teach the “Third” or “Fourth”

When you start looking at number sequences and want to teach the ordinal numbers, don’t forget that other number sequences also require a “third” and “fourth.” If you don’t teach the child these concepts he/she may not understand what the teacher is trying to say when asking for the fourth book on the bookshelf or the third one on the shelf. Also, it will confuse them as they age if they haven’t been introduced to these concepts.

3. Teach the Children to Count Backwards

I know that I’ve said that counting backward is one thing that can confuse students. In some respects, it is. However, if children have been taught to count backward from numbers like twenty-nine back down to the number five, they will understand how numbers are arranged in order much easier. 

In addition, if you teach the children to count backward for other number sequences (thirty-seven down to twenty-one or five down to one), they will also be able to count backward from larger numbers, making it easier for them during the next test!

4. Get the Children to Understand the Importance of Telling time

Telling time can be a difficult concept for some students to grasp. If children understand that the number system starts with twelve and goes down (and up) in order, it will be easier for them. When teaching a student how to tell time, ensure they understand this concept. 

If they start counting backward and then tell you 2:17, they might get it right, but showing them that every hour has sixty minutes and every minute has sixty seconds can help them understand more easily.

5. Give the Children the Freedom to Ask Questions

I have seen that some teachers and parents become frustrated when their child does not know how to tell time! Some may even feel like it is a failure on their part. However, if you give children the freedom to ask questions and then answer their questions once they understand, it can help them learn more easily. 

For example, maybe they can be given a chance to ask the question “what time is it” or “what day is it?” You may even want to allow them to try and explain how they will figure out what time or day it is. Giving them a chance to help themselves out can also make it easier for them to learn.

6. Give the Children Some Tools to Help Them Understand Time Sequences

When talking about time sequences, it might be helpful to have a timer with a dial so that children can see how long the forty-five minutes will last. You could also give your children some different colored rubber bands and let them use these for counting down the days or weeks—and following along with the day’s activities. It will help them understand how the months are organized and how long a month lasts.

7. Give the Children More than One Opportunity to Read

Kids will learn faster if they are given more than one opportunity to read. If you have your children do a reading assignment and then you have them do an activity that gives them another opportunity to read their work, they will be able to grasp the concept better. 

This is true for all students (not just those struggling with reading). Teachers and parents need to realize that it is okay for children to read their assignments once and then try again if they don’t understand the material.


Teaching ordinal numbers is fun to help students learn how to tell time, read, and write. But, first, you must give them multiple chances to read and show them how number sequences are organized. When you do this you will see improvements in the speed with which they grasp other concepts. If it seems like they aren’t getting it, don’t fret. It is just another way children learn at different paces.

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