Ordinal Numbers: Definition And Activities For Kids

by wherelearnu

Learning mathematical skills is a vital part of early childhood development. And understanding ordinal numbers and how they work is part of building this competency.

Before we dive deeper into what ordinal numbers are and how you can assist your child with learning them, it’s important to know that we use them in our everyday lives.

This means your child has probably already come across this numerical concept, even though they may not know how to put it into words yet.

To help your young learner reach a stage where they fully comprehend and can use these numbers correctly, we’ve prepared five effective activities for you to try at home.

Let’s begin!

What Are Ordinal Numbers?

Kid learning ordinal numbers

Ordinal numbers help us communicate the order of objects in a series. For example, first, second, third, and so on.

In theory, this sounds easy, but explaining it to children can be a little challenging. For instance, you can show a child the number “2,” and they may be able to understand what it means to have two of something (e.g., two eyes, two ears).

But when we talk about ordinal numbers, second (the ordinal number) is very different from two (the integer).

That’s because these numbers are not just about counting — they are more about things in relation to one another. And we have to look at a whole series or set for us to determine which object is first, second, third, etc.

The good news? Most children come across these types of numbers when watching a race or playing a game. They may be able to say:

Tommy came first.
Suzi was second.
Lorna was third.
Mike was last.

Children also spend a lot of time working with ordinal numbers in their early years at school because they connect with other critical mathematical concepts, such as sequencing and counting. So, helping your child understand them is part of a good foundation.

How Do You Write Them?

There are many different ways to write numbers, depending on what you are trying to show or solve. In the case of ordinal numbers, here are a few things to consider.

Let’s take a look at the first 10 ordinal numbers:

  • First (1st)
  • Second (2nd)
  • Third (3rd)
  • Fourth (4th)
  • Fifth (5th)
  • Sixth (6th)
  • Seventh (7th)
  • Eighth (8th)
  • Ninth (9th)
  • Tenth (10th)

From the above list, you can see that we write ordinal numbers by using the last two letters of the word. For example, fifth = 5th.

When looking at compound numbers, we apply the following:

  • Numbers ending with 1: Only add “st” (e.g., twenty-first = 21st, thirty-first = 31st)
  • Numbers ending with 2: Only add “nd” (e.g., twenty-second = 22nd, thirty-second = 32nd)
  • Numbers ending with 3: o/Only add “rd” (e.g., twenty-third = 23rd, thirty-third = 33rd)
  • Numbers ending with 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 0: Only add “th” (e.g., twenty-fourth = 24th, thirty-fifth = 35th)

Some people add “ly” at the end of an ordinal number when it’s written out (e.g., firstly, secondly, thirdly, etc.). However, when dealing with larger numbers (from 9th upwards), it’s best to avoid the “ly” altogether.

Ordinal Vs. Cardinal Numbers

Young girl writing ordinal numbers for kids

We can’t look at ordinal numbers without also identifying what cardinal numbers are and how they relate.

In a nutshell, cardinal numbers tell us how many there are of something. For example, you have two ears. We also use these numbers for counting. Ordinal numbers, on the other hand, tell us the order of things in a set. For example, Timothy is second in the line.

Distinguishing between these two concepts can sometimes be tricky, especially for young learners. For instance, they might say, “The number three question was so easy,” instead of, “The third question was so easy.”

Activities are a great way to help our children identify the differences between these two concepts. With that in mind, here’s our list of five fun and effective games you can play with your child at home!

5 Activities To Learn Ordinal Numbers For Kids

1) Toy Lineup

Dad using toys to teach ordinal numbers for kids to his son

What You’ll Need:

  • Index cards
  • Marker
  • Any toys of your choice

What To Do:

The simplest way to introduce ordinal numbers to children is by placing some of their favorite toys in a line.

For this activity, you can use anything — dolls, toy cars, trains, legos — basically, anything you have an abundance of. After placing these items in a line, write ordinal numbers on your index cards (one number on each card).

To start playing, hand your child the index cards. Then, have them match the correct number card with each toy. For example, if they point at the fourth toy, they need to show you the card labeled “4th.”

You can start with just three to five items and, as they improve their skills, increase the line to 10 items or more.

This is a great way for children to get comfortable with what ordinal numbers look like in their numerical form.

2) Change The Lineup

What You’ll Need:

  • Index cards
  • Marker
  • Any toy of your choice

What To Do:

As the name suggests, this activity is all about changing the positions of your lined-up objects. You can use the same toys you used in the previous game.

Start with changing the position of one object. For example, move one item from the third to the last spot. Then, ask your child:

Which toy is third in line now?
Which toy is last in line now?

Continue moving just one object at a time, and encourage your child to re-evaluate their positions.

This game allows children to grasp that just one change is enough to influence the whole series. It also encourages them to think beyond memorization. As you switch things up, they’ll have to focus on which object is now the first, second, third, and so on.

3) Story Plot Map

What You’ll Need:

  • A sheet of paper
  • Marker

What To Do:

To begin, draw four boxes on your sheet of paper and label them with ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th). Next, tell a story in parts. For example, it might look something like this:

First, a girl named Emily wanted to get a cat.
Second, she went to a store and found the cutest little kitty.
Third, she asked her parents to get the cat.
Fourth, they told her…

You can also write (or help your child write) what happens in each box as you tell the story. (So, “First, a girl named Emily wanted to get a cat” would go in the box labeled “1st”).

Point to each box as you tell that part of the story to give a visual representation of the events and emphasize the ordinal numbers (e.g., first, second, and so on).

Your story can take any direction you wish, and you can also encourage your child to give their input on what happens next.

One challenge with this game is ending the story on the last box. If there are four boxes, for example, then the fourth has to end it all. We recommend beginning by modeling all four boxes yourself first.

After that, your child thinks of box one, you get box two, they get box three, and you conclude the story for box four. After trying this a few times, let your child try the fourth box.

4) Color The Rainbow

Young boy coloring

What You’ll Need:

  • White sheet of paper
  • Pencil
  • Crayons

What To Do:

Start by drawing eight lines in the shape of a rainbow on your sheet of paper. Then, hand the paper to your child. To play, have them listen to and follow directions as you tell them which stripe to color in.

For example:

Color the third stripe green.
Color the fifth stripe orange.

Continue giving instructions until the rainbow has all of its seven colors.

Don’t be surprised if your child has to count each time they color in a stripe. This is all part of practicing and learning as they go, and this activity reinforces that ordinal numbers are about looking at the order of a whole set.

5) Wrong Order

What You’ll Need:

  • Index cards
  • Marker

What To Do:

Start by writing 1st-10th down on your index cards (one number on each card). Then, shuffle the cards and line them up in the wrong order. Very simply, the object of the game is for your child to place the cards in the correct order.

They might need a little help in the beginning, but as they get more comfortable, you can add a timer to keep things interesting: Let’s see if you can line these up in their correct order in under 30 seconds!

This is a great activity for children to practice identifying ordinal numbers in their numerical form (1st, 2nd, 3rd, etc.).

Ordinal Numbers Are Not So Ordinary!

Young boy playing with toys

While we may use the concept and language of ordinal numbers every day, there’s nothing ordinary about them.

And as you can now see, helping children learn to correctly identify these numbers is crucial because they form part of other important concepts, such as sequencing. The above activities allow your child to work on and solidify their knowledge of ordinal numbers with you at home.

In addition, our Wacky Slide game from the HOMER Learn & Grow app is specially designed to help reinforce the fundamentals of understanding and working with ordinal numbers.

By using these activities — and with lots of time and practice — your young learner will be an ordinal number pro in no time!


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