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MCSA Lockdown Tip 69

MCSA Lockdown Tip 69

Lockdown Day 69 – Ordinal Numbers

Numeracy and Arithmetic

The world of mathematics is full of what can be seen as ‘terrifying’ terminology! Many an adult is left frantically scratching their heads and searching what is left of their school brain when faced with the question of what is a cardinal/ordinal number, prime factor etc…

This is mostly because we learned these terms by rote instead really understanding what they mean.

All the activities we have done on Maths to date have involved CARDINAL NUMBERS. These are the WHOLE NUMBERS that we use to count (a set of objects). Cardinal numbers tell us about QUANTITY.

When you ask the child, for example, to count how many bananas there are in a bunch, the answer will be a CARDINAL number. I.e. There are 7 bananas. 7 is a cardinal number. Cardinal numbers are sometimes referred to as ‘counting numbers’ as they are most often used to count sets of objects.

Once the child has had a fair amount of practice in using cardinal numbers, you will need to extend their learning to the understanding of ORDINAL NUMBERS.

The easiest way to remember what an ordinal number is, is to look at the word itself. What does ‘ordinal’ sound like? Yes – it sounds like ‘order’! Hence, an ordinal number is one that tell us an object’s POSITION IN A SERIES.

So where CARDINAL counting is one, two, three, four, five (and so on), ORDINAL counting is FIRST, SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH (and so on).

This is a more difficult concept for young children to grasp as the position in the series is relational. If you have a line of 10 objects, for example, the object that is SEVENTH from the left, is also THIRD from the right! Ordinal numbers are built on the understanding of the relationships between the positions of objects.

Whilst this can be explored on worksheets, it is far more understandable for the young child to be physically involved in the activity.


The easiest way to start teaching the child about ordinal numbers is to line objects up in a row. You can use any objects that you have in the house (from Lego bricks to pegs to toy cars).

  • Line up to 10 objects up in a row and first ask the child to count the objects.
  • Then ask the child if s/he knows which one of these objects is the FIRST object in the row (from the left) and which is the LAST.
  • Go back to the FIRST object. Reiterate that the object that the child counted as ‘one’ is the ‘first’ object.
  • What comes after ‘one’? Two. Two is called the ‘SECOND’ object.
  • Repeat this for as many objects as the child is interested in.


Consider where you can use ordinal language in everyday activities.

  • When cooking/baking: First we need to get a bowl. Second we need to get four eggs…
  • When brushing teeth: First we need to open the toothpaste. Second we need to squeeze toothpaste on the toothbrush…
  • When dressing: First you will need to put on your underwear. Second you will put on your T-Shirt…
  • At mealtimes: What are you going to eat first/second/third?


One of our human characteristics is our need and tendency to create order. We use this concept in everything that we do. Giving children lots of opportunity to practice this skill in a day-to-day living manner will give them a solid foundation on which to build later (more abstract) mathematical, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


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