Why kids struggle with estimating quantities

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

How many juice boxes do we need for the party? About how many coins are in the jar? Estimating “how many” is a math skill we use almost every day. It’s also a skill that many kids struggle with. 

A big reason kids have trouble estimating “how many” is because they haven’t learned basic math skills like number sense. Number sense is a set of skills that help you understand how numbers relate to each other, like if 10 is more or less than 5. Without these skills, estimation is very difficult.

Even when they know the basics, kids might still struggle if estimation hasn’t been clearly explained to them. They may think numbers have to be exact. And they may not have had enough practice trying to guess different quantities.

All kids develop differently. Some pick up math skills and learn how to estimate with just a bit of teaching. Others need extra practice and time to learn. And some kids continue to struggle with estimating even after teaching and practice.

This could be a sign of an underlying challenge in math. A common one is a learning difference called dyscalculia. See a list of signs of dyscalculia.

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    About the author

    About the author

    Andrew M.I. Lee, JD is an editor and attorney who strives to help people understand complex legal, education, and parenting issues.

    Reviewed by

    Reviewed by

    Daniel Ansari, PhD is a professor in developmental cognitive neuroscience at Western University, Canada.