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Place Value

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

Whenever exploring place value, I ask kids… “Do you want five dollars or fifty dollars?”. When the question is framed like this, kids start to unravel the fact that place value is much more than where the digit it located but the value that the digit holds.

Did you know we operate in a base-ten number system (ten ones = 1 ten, 10 ten = 1 hundred, etc.)? In Canada, we also use the metric system that also follows this pattern. (Contrastingly, when we think about time, we use a base 60 system for minutes and seconds and a base 12 system for hours… we will consider this in another post).

Anyways, I absolutely love bringing out base ten blocks when teaching place value. When working with just numbers, place value can feel abstract for our early learners. Bringing in that concrete visual, has done wonders for many of the kiddos we tutor at Latch Onto Learning.

Early Place Value

When working with our little ones, I love making groups of ten and having them trade those ten teeny-tiny-blocks for a rod (representing 1 ten or 10 ones). From there we can count up the number of groups of ten and connect that number to skip counting by ten.

Place Value with Adding and Subtracting

When we get into two-digit addition and subtraction, understanding place value becomes a prerequisite for many questions. Kiddos need to understan

d the relationship between the ones-column and the tens column. They need to understand how they can deconstruct a digit in the tens column and what to do when an answer in the ones column no longer fits there (see our blog post on regrouping).

As students advance into adding and subtracting three- and four-digit numbers, place value again becomes important because students need to keep track of the different numbers’ place value. If our kiddos are adding two digits, we need to teach them to line up the place value spots (ones on top of ones; tens on top of tens). This differs from writing where we would line things up on the left.

If you find a student struggling with this, a fun twist is to have them ‘spot the error’. Write out a math question but forget to line up the place value lines. Solve the question. Scratch your head and see what your little one comes up with! It’s a great way to flip the script on errors. You can encourage tangible manipulates (like our base ten blocks) to help your little learner discover what went wrong.

If you find your child is repeatedly struggling with keeping their digits' place values organized on paper, consider using 2cm graph paper and having them write a digit in each box or have them draw lines between the digits to show the place value lines.

As your child advances, these foundational skills will then be applied to metric conversions, multiplication, division and will extend into decimals and fractions. It is so important to give your child that strong foundation. We would love to partner with you and support you! We have many tutoring partners who are ready to help your child find academic success!

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