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Learning How to Make an Educated Guess or Estimate

December 9, 2009

Children develop the ability to make an educated guess with practice. Usually their guesses start off being way out of the ball park – going for the biggest number rather than the correct number.

Making it a game will engage your child’s sense of play and wonder. Sparking their curiosity will give them an opportunity of new ways of thinking.


Before your child makes their guess, explain what a guess is. Explain that guessing isn’t about being exact, it’s about being close.  You may want to explain that sometimes it’s good to guess and sometimes you need to be exact.  Guessing is a good tool for later in life when your child does math problems. They’ll be able to estimate what the answer should be then do the calculations. If the answer to their problem isn’t close to their estimation, then they’ll know that their answer is most likely wrong.

Guessing can be hard for some children who strive for perfection and they want the guess to be the exact number of items. Playing guessing games will help them feel more comfortable.

Guessing Activity

  1. Take a group of familiar objects that are of similar size: golf balls, toy cars, Lego blocks, long pretzel sticks…and put them together so your child can see them but can’t actually count each one. You can use a bowl, basket or a plastic jar.
  2. Ask your childto guess how many objects there are.They’ll probably respond with “I don’t know” or “Okay” and begin to count them. You immediately have to say, “Without counting them.”They’ll probably look at you like your nuts – it’s okay, you are not nuts!

    You can say, “Well, do you think there are more than five? More than 100? So approximately, how many do you think?”

    Usually children give a random number at first. They know that you want a number but they haven’t learned how to use their sense of numbers to make it an educated guess yet.

    Whatever they answer is, is acceptable. The point is over time is to get closer to the actually number.

  3. Now have your child can count them. Putting them into groups of 10 is helpful because in the near future they are going to be working on numbers in groups of ten and if they need to recount them they won’t have to start over.Parent tip: Line the objects up left to right for counting (it reinforces going from left to right with reading).Was your child surprised by how many objects there were?

Trick to Estimating

Now you can show them a trick to estimating.

  • One way is to show them 10 of the objects and have them compare it to the whole. “If this is how big 10 (objects) are, how many (objects) do you think are there?”
  • Or point out if 10 objects are the same size as… their finger or thumb. They can use it as a way to measure how many times their finger or thumb can cover the area. It won’t give them an exact number, but with practice the numbers will get closer.

Re-enforcement Activities

1. Do the Guessing Activity with other objects around the house – just be sure to use objects that have a uniform shape and size (more or less). You might want to do one a week. Have a jar in the kitchen with a note pad and pencil for them to record their guesses.

Using the same size jar or container for a variety of sized objects will help them develop a sense of volume. They will also start to see that different objects take up different amounts of space.

Perhaps fill it with their favorite: toys, candies, berries… that they may enjoy after they have made their estimation.

2. Start with larger objects and work to smaller ones as they become more comfortable with the process. Tell your child that you have changed the size of the items and see if they adjust their answer accordingly.

3. When your child is older, you can add questions like, “Do we have enough for everyone? How many will everyone get?” They will be doing mental math and division in a real life situation which helps make it relevant.


Each time you set out an estimating jar, does your child revise their number closer to the actual number of items? Are they refining the numbers or still making a random guess?

With experience your child will develop a sense of what is a good guess.  It will be an educated guess based on the skills you give them through practice.

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