Mental Agility & Subitising Research

Work groups have run for two years on this aspect and we encourage all schools to engage in some way.

Subitising can be defined as ‘the ability to recognise the numerosity of a small number of objects without counting’ or ‘instantly seeing how many’. Research shows that it is closely linked to number sense and is important in helping children develop mental imagery. Douglas H Clements (Professor of Early Childhood Learning, University of Denver) proposes that there are two types of subitising: perceptual (instantly knowing the amount) and conceptual (involving some form of calculation). See Research Article or upload from the bottom of this page. Through the development of resources and the trialling of these within classrooms, the workgroup led by Judith Copley in 2015/6 aimed to consider some questions regarding subitising, for example:

  • Do children have to be able to count in order to subitise?
  • Is the matching of patterns, subitising?
  • What skills should be developed in conceptual subitising?
  • What is the value of using random patterns?
  • Does subitising in regular patterns develop number bonds?

Underpnning all of these questions is: ‘Does subitising in any form aid the development of number skills in young children?’

Following an initial launch meeting, 23 schools signed up to the group which culminated in presentations of findings at the end of the academic year. Copies of schools' presentations and their reports can be uploaded from the bottom of this page.

How does my school benefit from this?

SYMH is encouraging all schools to participate in a repeat of last year's activities. See this message from Judith.

Dear colleague,

Further to our successful work last year, there will be another work group funded by the South Yorkshire Maths Hub in 2016-17 to extend involvement in subitising (recognising amounts without counting) to more schools. This will be a chance for those which were not involved to learn from last year’s work and try out some of the activities / approaches. Schools who participated last year could further develop their work by attending sessions, sending new staff, or simply continuing to develop and roll out the approach within their setting without attending, however there are further opportunities for you (see the next email).

If you would like to be involved, there will be an introductory session on Wednesday 5th October at The Unity Centre, St Leonard’s Road, Rotherham, S65 1PD from 1.15 to 3.30pm. This session will share research, resources and suggestions for you to try out. Most schools last year worked with EYFS to Y2, but this could be appropriate for Y3 also, depending on ability. There will then be a small number of half day/twilight sessions during the year where we can share resources and ideas, culminating in a final session where we would share findings, resources which have worked well and some case studies. However, most of the work will take place within your school, with your pupils as you try and develop resources and strategies.

The focus will be on encouraging young children to recognise patterns of amounts without counting and explain what they see. We will focus on regular patterns and move to irregular. Participants last year found that this increased children’s ability to look for patterns and visualise numbers and number bonds but also had a positive impact on their confidence, enjoyment and ability in using numbers and amounts.

I would recommend involving two teachers, as they can share ideas within school.

Please email me to express your interest and to let me know how many people will be attending on 5th October, their names and roles.

I look forward to working with you.

Kind regards,


Schools wishing to contact Judith who will continue as work group leader can do so by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Additionally, in time there will be suggested activities and examples of materials in use made available through IRIS Connect   

Last modified onWednesday, 26 July 2017 09:32
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