• Dr. Monica Cavender

Because Ten is Our Friend

Making Ten as a Mental Math Strategy

The goal of making ten mental math strategy is to think about all the pairs of numbers that equal ten with automaticity. Without having the pairs of numbers that make 10 automatized, children will have a much harder time working with larger numbers. You simply can’t do enough practice of these combinations of numbers.

Children need to have a lot of practice using concrete objects (fingers, toes, cereal pieces, buttons, pennies, dried pasta) and visually seeing combinations of numbers before they are rushed to do them abstractly. The nature of physically combining objects, deepens the understanding and therefore the concept is able to be remembered.

This deepened understanding also takes time and needs multiple opportunities to show and explain the justifications. Remember when your child learned to use a spoon? The goal was real, yet it took multiple opportunities to practice in order to master and to understand why it was necessary. The same practice is needed for mental math.

We at Zach's Backpack, also suggest keeping the conversation interesting by changing the size of the items used to practice. Maybe one day you are using dried elbow macaroni and the next time you are using shoes from the closet. As obvious as it may seem to adults, children are not always developmentally aware that even if the size of the objects changes that combination still equals ten. Some children may see the more space an item takes up, the bigger the quantity.

It is also fun to use family members as models of combinations that equal ten. Maybe the Grandma and Grandpa (2) plus 8 grandchildren equal ten. Maybe the five goldfish, two cats, and 3 hamsters equal ten. Using a context that is real to children creates an environment that is relatable and therefore memorable and easy to understand.

At Zach's Backpack there are several games that provide a fun and engaging way to practice number pairs that equal ten. Try out Fishing for Tens, You've Been Framed, You're a Ten Out of Ten, or TA-DAA! You and your child will have the fun noting the number pairs that equal ten to memory and share in creating smiling memories as well!

So practice making ten because ten is our friend!

In addition to all the fun games you can do at home combining number pairs to equal ten at Zach's Backpack, we have also included links to songs, videos, and pictures that support this mental strategic thinking.

Additional Resources

Video of how to use the make ten model (no sound)


Song of Number Pairs that Make Ten


UMIGO - That Makes Ten


Rocking Dan Teaching Man Friends of 10


Rocking Dan Teaching Man Let’s All Do the Ten Dance


Jack Hartmann song about numbers that make 10


Dog Named Ten: Ways to Add to 10


I Can Say My Number Pairs that Add to 10


Online Game About Making 10


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