How to Help Your Kids When They Are Learning to Count
Children learn by hearing and repeating, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they understand the concepts they’re saying. Even young children can count to ten because they’re reciting numbers they’ve heard before.
To help them learn, you need to ensure they understand what the numbers mean and how to use them in real life.
Many children start abstractly learning this concept. They can look at another child’s plate and see that they have more crackers even without counting the exact numbers. After they eat some crackers, they innately understand that they have less.
There are many different aspects to early childhood math, so take your time and focus on them one by one. By encouraging these general concepts, you can help your child learn to count. Learning to count in engaging ways will prime them for future math concepts.
Toddlers can recite numbers because they hear them spoken aloud. Sing numbers in rhymes, like “one, two, buckle my shoe.” As children learn and repeat numbers, you can help them learn to count by letting them watch you do it.
Reciting numbers can be a game for small children. You can point out numbers everywhere—toys around the house, flowers on walks, page numbers in a book, and more. Once you start identifying numbers, your child will do it as well.
They might initially say numbers out of order. This will naturally correct as they learn, so don’t worry about teaching them the right way. Simply say the numbers in the right order when you count and they will learn organically.
Trying to correct what they’ve said might shame them and they’ll be resistant to trying again, so keep your tone encouraging.
At a young age, a child might chant the numbers more than recite them. This means they’re saying the numbers in order, but they’re just repeating what they’ve heard instead of counting.
They might chant the numbers quickly. If they’re interrupted, they usually have to start over rather than pick up where they left off. This is still a great way to learn to count, so don’t discourage this habit.
In time, they will learn the sequence of numbers and will be able to start from a number other than one.
Model Counting in Daily Life
Young children love helping around the house. As you give them tasks, ask them to count when possible. Model it yourself by counting as you cook and prepare your child’s meals. “I need two pieces of bread for your sandwich. One, two.”
Modeling is the best way to teach young children key concepts. Instead of sitting them down to teach them something they can’t grasp, show them how the idea relates to real life. They are watching you and doing what you do, so if you count your items, they will mimic you by counting as well.
You can help your child think of numbers by asking them how much of something you’ll need. After modeling counting yourself, you can ask them, “How many plates will we need for dinner?”
Some children get excited and silly and will yell, “One hundred!” or another unrealistic number. Instead of disregarding their answer, take them seriously. Tell them that one hundred is a large number. Explain that you only need plates for each person in the family.
With that parameter in mind, ask them again how many plates you need for dinner. Your child can count each person in the family, holding up a finger to represent a person. They will correspond, “Mommy, Daddy, and me,” to the number three. Then you will show them three plates, reinforcing their answer.
Applying numbers to daily tasks like this will help your child with counting and estimating. They’ll learn how to logically think of a problem and use numbers to come up with an answer.
You can count while you’re playing games like peek-a-boo: “one, two, three, peek-a-boo!” In that instance, each number coincides with a beat. Your child will learn that they’ll see your face at the count of three. They might recite the numbers along with you.
If you serve an orange for a snack, count the slices as you put them in front of your child. Ask them to repeat after you, saying the number each time you put down an orange slice. This will help your child understand that one slice equals one number.
Teach 1:1 Correspondence
Being able to count to ten doesn’t mean your child can pick out ten blocks. Children need to understand that each object is one item, and as they touch or pick up an item, they can count higher.
You can begin teaching 1:1 correspondence at a young age. Children can recognize groups of three as early as 12 months old. Count out loud as you point to each object in a group: “one, two, three.” Your child will realize that each object counts as one.
Some children try to rush over the 1:1 correspondence. They count quickly and point, but they’re not ensuring that they count each object once. If your child is counting too fast, teach them to slow down, reach for each object, and only say the number when they are touching it.
As your child understands 1:1 correspondence, they will learn simple math. They will be able to visually see that eight is one more than seven. This will lay the groundwork for simple addition and subtraction, which they will learn later.
Teaching 1:1 correspondence is crucial in early childhood development. Young children need to see what they’re counting so they have something tangible to rely on. As they get older, they will be able to count non-visible objects.
After children learn to count properly using 1:1 correspondence, you can introduce written numbers to your child. The Montessori method of teaching math is a great way to link these concepts together. Montessori is very hands-on, so after using manipulatives, you can add in number cards.
Have your child put the number cards in order from one to ten. They should be able to see the number on the card and speak the number aloud. Then they take the correct amount of manipulatives and put it in front of the number.
When they’re first completing this exercise, they should do the numbers in increasing order. After they master that, they can work in decreasing order. Then you can take the practice a step further by pointing at a number and having them identify it and place the correct manipulatives below.
Once they master the concept of one through ten, they can work on teens. You can break down the concept by adding a unit that represents ten. They will add one manipulative to make 11, two to make 12, and so on.
By now they will most likely be able to notice the pattern, especially in the numerical digits. They will understand that each set of tens will have the same numbers, which will help them count to 20, 30, 40, and higher.
After learning that pattern, they can learn to count by tens. Again, using a manipulative that represents ten can help them practice this method.
Help By Sorting
Sorting doesn’t seem to relate to counting, but it helps develop logical thinking that will benefit them in the long run. Many concepts in math and real life rely on distinguishing things that are different and then relating them to each other.
Give your child an assortment of objects that are of various sizes, shapes, and colors. These differences are obvious, so they’ll understand that blue blocks are different from red balls. They see how each object is separate from the others, which hits home the point that each item is one thing.
Ask your child to count items of certain colors separately and then together. This will help plant the seeds that parts can make up a whole. It will also teach cardinality. This is the concept that the last number counted is the total of the items in the group.
You can test this skill by asking your child to count yellow items from an assortment. They will count up to six in order. Then ask them how many yellow items there are. If they don’t answer six, they still need to work on the idea of cardinality.
Making counting part of your everyday life will help your child learn. Model the behaviors you want to see reflected in them. Add counting to your daily life by reading interesting books before bedtime.
Children have a lot to learn with numbers and counting, so make sure you keep it fun and engaging for them. Encourage them to count anything they see. As they start doing simple addition, show them how to correct themselves by counting on their fingers.
Every concept a child learns will serve them well in later life. If you ensure your child enjoys learning to count, they’ll have a better relationship with math concepts they learn in school.