I tutor where we have kids from pre-k to 4th grade. I teach a girl after I'm done with my class. I get to sit with her for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

For almost two months I've been teaching her numbers. She has memorized the numbers from 0 to 10, but if I hold up a number she won't say it. I decided to go one by one where she could point 0 to 3 for me but after that she just cant differentiate between 4 and 5. For the past two months we have been doing this and still today she cant tell me which is 5 and which is 4.

I hold up a 4 and tell her, "This is 4." I try to make her memorize the shape of four and even make her write it, and did the same thing with 5. After a 5 min break, I hold up 5 and ask her what number it is and she'll say 4!

I don't know what to do anymore!

  • 1
    What age is pre-k exactly? Also, does she remember any letters? Letters and numbers are scarily abstract thingies, when you think about it...
    – Layna
    Apr 6, 2016 at 10:53
  • Are there any other behaviors you have noticed that seem odd? I'm asking because what you are describing to me, can also be a sign of abuse. My other thought might be that she needs her vision checked. Also, it's my understanding that children this age have a tendency to see letters & numbers the same way someone with dyslexia might. This can actually go on till the age of 7 or 8. Have you consulted other tutors or teachers? These are just some thoughts. Apr 6, 2016 at 14:17
  • 3
    Please person who tutors, set a good example by using capital letters and complete sentences. Not trying to be mean, but please practice what you preach.
    – user7678
    Apr 6, 2016 at 16:10
  • Is this possibly a better question on Mathematics Educators?
    – Joe
    Apr 6, 2016 at 19:07
  • 1
    Pre K though - that's something they'll learn eventually. I'd say she's probably just not interested in numbers right now. There may be a way to get through to her but maybe she's more interested in play-doh or climbing at that point in life. My pre K daughter shows no real interest in numbers yet but she excels in other ways. Not an issue to me
    – Kai Qing
    Apr 6, 2016 at 23:51

3 Answers 3


Is it possible that she doesn't want to be sitting down for 30-60 minutes going over numbers, and in a form of silent protest she is pretending she doesn't know something when she actually does? My daughter used to do that with teachers and tutors who didn't engage her interest in the subject matter.

You might try turning it into more of a game than a lesson. A couple of games that her tutor (I'll call her Susan) used to do with her when she was pre-K leaps to mind. Every now and then Susan would bring out some alphabet crackers and say "I'm going to draw a letter and then open the box of crackers. Whichever of us finds that letter first gets to eat it". She also had a bowl full of little letter beads, which my daughter loved searching through to find the beads that matched. Susan would pick out a bead randomly and then my daughter would find one that looked the same and whenever she found one that matched, her stuffed bunny would get to go up one step on the staircase. When Bun-bun got to the top, they'd all cheer.

You could get a ten sided dice from any gaming store, and then a container full of numbers. They might be as simple as numbers written on pieces of paper. Then get a board game that involves moving from place to place, maybe with a dice roll, and when each of you rolls a dice you have to find a matching number in a container. If you get it right, you advance on the board that number of spaces. If you get it wrong, you go back one space (just so the consequences of getting it wrong aren't too discouraging). Be sure to get it wrong yourself a few times so she doesn't get frustrated and give up.

It's certainly possible that she has learning disabilities or some other reason for being unable to distinguish the numbers, but even if she does, it doesn't hurt to make learning fun. At that age kids don't have much of an attention span for things that don't engage their sense of "fun".


My suggestion to you is: Let her count the puppies.

In my country, pre-K is 2-3 years old.

Are you using flash-cards that have pictures of the quantities on them? For example: a flash card that has the number 4 with 4 puppies on it.

I encourage you to let her count the puppies. Use a different object on each card, let her temporarily associate the number 4 with "4 puppies", and 5 with "5 flowers". Encourage her to count the objects instead of guessing.

Early on, children will associate the strange symbols we use for letters and numerals with practical items, hieroglyphs if you will. Most children will begin to learn by saying the alphabet, or counting (saying the numbers they know). Counting to 10 or saying the Alphabet begins for children much like singing a song or rehearsing a poem.

Later, children will use their "number song" to count objects. Later still, they will associate the obscure symbols we use for numeral indication with quantities. This is the goal you are trying to achieve. I would take a step back and allow her to count items on the card, and she will begin to associate the 4 puppies she counted with the symbol "4" she has no prior experience with.

This is the same way children learn their letters, which is not the same as learning to read.

Children learn different things at different rates. Her brain might not be ready to associate these abstract symbols with words (the verbal number). I am not saying it cannot be taught with repetition, but her age may be an obstacle at this point.

Similar phenomena exists when attempting to teach things like the concept of pointers in computer programming. Without building blocks it is difficult (but not impossible) to get these new concepts learned.


I don't know what sort of options you have in terms of how you tutor, but one thing that worked very well with my children (who both are good with numbers) was to go for a walk up a residential street. Each house you pass, ask what the house number is. It's something of a game that involves several things:

  • Finding the number on the house (it's often hard, at least where I live)
  • Reading the number
  • Recognizing the patterns in the numbers (+2 or +4 or sometimes different!)

Even if you can't go outside with her, you could perhaps open up a computer to Google Streetview and go for a 'tour' of a random neighborhood somewhere interesting - start with her own neighborhood, then pick other cities.

Alternately, you could open up Redfin or Zillow or similar (house-shopping websites) and do the same sort of thing. Look for houses for sale near her area or in a city that's interesting to her. Let her pick which ones to look at off the map.

And if a computer isn't available to work with her, you could even print out pictures/listings from either of the above - twenty or thirty is probably enough at least to start with. If you're working with a school, get their permission to print it on their printers/paper of course.

Either way, include more than just the numbers - talk about the details of the house, what kind of exterior (siding/brick/stone/stucco/etc.), how many windows, what color - lots of fun things to talk about just looking at houses.

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