Before children begin Year 1 it is expected that they will have a very good familiarity with whole numbers from at least 0 to 20.

If your child can count from 0 to 20 that’s a great start. Ideally though we want them to be able to recognise quantities representing each number, the numeral itself and the number spelled out in letters.

From there it’s great to start developing counting on from any number (not just zero) as well as developing some skills with addition and subtraction.

One of the best tools that covers so many of these scenarios is a simple pack of dominoes.

Recognising Quantities and Subitising


The ability to recognise a quantity by looking at a grouping of dots is an important skill that you and I have learned by playing games with dice and dominoes. In the above image, matching the pink domino with the orange domino shows an ability to recognise the number of dots on the matching sides.

The ability to look at a domino and state the number of dots on each half without counting them is called subitising and is one of the curriculum areas that children should be confident with before starting Year 1.

Get yourself a few packs of dominoes like these Double 6, Double 9, Double 12 and Double 15, and simply sit with your child and explore the dot patterns and the quantities as you each select a domino from the pack. These are great because they’re colourful, tactile and if you have a pack of each, they will last you through a few stages of your child’s development. At first your child may need to count the dots, but with exposure they’ll be visually recognising the quantities before long.

Counting on from a number

Once your child is showing good confidence with recognising the quantities, it’s time to start developing some counting skills.

Take any domino from your collection and show your child one half. Ask them which number comes next.

For example if you show them this domino (a Double 9), covering up the four white dots and just showing them the 9 dots, you can ask “Which number is this?” and then “Which number comes next?”

Single domino

From there you can develop counting skills further. Using the same domino as an example, you could say “Let’s count the next 5 numbers together” or “Let’s count backwards from this number.”

Often children find it difficult to use numbers out of sequence and so it is certainly worth your time and effort to help them practise this skill with you at home. As it is a skill that requires individual attention, they might not get enough of an opportunity at school.

Addition and Subtraction

Using dominoes is a great way to teach and practise addition and subtraction with your child.

Single Domino 2

Let’s use this domino as an example. You can ask your child how many dots each side has and then how many dots there are in total.

Alternatively you can cover up one side (let’s say the green side) and ask “If there are 15 dots in total, how many more do I need?” with the answer being 4. Your child will first need to identify that there are 11 red dots, and then they might use their fingers or another domino to count on how many more dots they need to reach 15.

You will choose the dominoes that are most appropriate for the age and development of your child. With young kids who are just learning these skills start out with double 6s, but as your child starts to progress in lower primary, use the double 15s.

A great interactive website that allows you to do this with double 6s online can be found here. Simply play along with your child, or have them close by keeping an ear on how they’re doing, monitoring whether they need your help or not.

We hope you’ve found these activities helpful. If you know someone who might benefit from this post then we’d love for you to send it their way. If you purchase packs of dominoes from the links above, then a small commission will come our way and we thank you!

Photo credit: Micah Taylor / Foter / CC BY-NC-SA