One of the most concrete ways to help young children grasp the concept of zero is to play a game of “takeaway”. Start out with things they really like— toys, candies, books, etc.— and then playfully take them away. First they had some, now they have none! Then let them do the same for you. Place a few of your favorite items in front of you, and let them take it all away. Use such words as zero, nothing, some, and none. Have them repeat sentences after you—like, “I had some of my things right here and now that you have them, I have none left! I have zero things!”. You can also watch our video explaining what zero means in simple terms. Making math concepts apply to real life is the best way to help your preschool age child learn about numbers and retain information.
When you have finished helping your child get to know what zero means. It is time to practice recognizing and writing the numeral. Call attention to the fact that the numeral 0 looks like a familiar shape they may also be learning about—a circle! Have them notice what is the same about a zero and a circle, and what is different. Practice noticing the sounds in the word zero by isolating each sound /z/ /e/ /r/ /o/.
Using this activity from Kids Academy will guide preschool-aged children through tracing the numeral 0 and practice forming zero on their own. It will also allow them to practice writing the word form of zero. First, have them trace the letters with their finger, then a crayon. Too add extra practice, use different colored crayons tracing over each other to make a “rainbow’ word when writing zero. Rainbow writing is something they are likely to get experience with in most primary grades when working with words.
A natural next step beyond understanding zero—the concept, numeral, and word form—is distinguishing it form other numerals. Some numbers look similar to others and some differ greatly, but young children must learn to differentiate all of them, and be able to name them as they see them. Using this activity from the Kids Academy lesson plan resources will provide experience with just that. Again, have your child identify and trace the zeros with their finger and then a writing utensil. Notice the similarities and differences between the way zeros look in comparison to other numerals. Then, have them trace the new numbers they may not know yet for some extra exposure. After tracing the numbers, perhaps they could color in the shapes of them to practice their fine motor skills by staying inside the lines.
Also, check out the above worksheet that introduces the idea of a number line to help with counting, beginning with zero. Challenge your child to remember what comes beyond the number 5, and make their own number line on a separate sheet of paper that shows 0-10. Enjoy the sports theme background and name different numbers for your little learner to find. When they have found the number you’ve called out, they can tick the box next to it. As another extension activity, turn the paper over and write the numbers 0-10 scattered about on the page. Have your child circle all the zeros they can find on a more “crowded” page. Not only will this reinforce their learning about zero, but it will also train their eyes to find certain shapes.
Find more guided lessons on early number sense and other topics in our interactive catalogue!