As an adult, counting seems like such an easy skill, but do you remember how you learned to count? Chances are, if you’re like most people, you probably don’t. And when it comes to teaching children how to learn counting, you won’t realize the frustration until you’re smack dab in the middle of it!
Learning to count is fairly common around three years old, but kids can actually start as early as 12 months old! At this age, it may not be completely obvious as they’re able to understand so much more than they can express. But once they reach three, you’ll begin to see them expressing basic number sense.
As parents, we actually introduce the concept of counting to our children when we sing nursery rhymes and count out small toys…but only on the ground level. We tend to focus on the letters and words without considering how much we need to specifically teach counting.
Usually, it isn’t until kindergartners start school that parents frantically realize they’ve taken for granted the art of knowing how to count. While memorization is part of the process, kids need to understand that quantities of numbers are more than just saying and remembering numeric symbols.
What To Expect at Different Age Levels
It’s evident that children don’t start counting without guidance. But once they master being able to recite their numbers, what’s next? Well, that all depends on your child’s age and individual level of understanding. Below you will see a loose guideline according to their age of a child’s perception when it comes to counting.
By 12 months old, toddlers are beginning to understand and classify things using words like more, bigger, and less. They begin to differentiate between sizes, such as small and large, and often they begin learning what happens next.
Let’s look at an example.
If you decide to feed your toddler Cheerios at snack time and you count out each one, your toddler will start to equate Cheerios at snack time to counting. While they may not be able to pronounce each number correctly, they will try to mimic what you say and do. This is preparing them to learn to count.
In the toddler years, expect your kids to…
- show you how many or how they are using their fingers
- often skip some numbers when reciting them in order
- have to restart counting at one rather than pick up where they left off
- be aware of other numbers (and know how to say them), but be unsure about the sequential order
Once children become preschoolers, there is a huge progression in their understanding and knowledge base. They become very confident and excited about all of the things they are learning!
Suddenly they know how to…
- sort things by color and size
- count to 20 or even higher from memorization
- recognize and match a numeral to the name of the number (such as 7 is seven) up to 10
- identify two-digit numbers
- recognize numerals up to 20
- compare groups and recognize when one is larger or smaller than the other
- follow multi-step directions (Sort the blue blocks, and then count them.)
At this point, older preschoolers and kindergarteners also understand one-to-one correspondence, which simply means that they count items individually one at a time. This is a crucially important concept that they will need to build a solid math foundation.
Ways to Learn Counting
Learning to count is a concept that takes time and practice. So when you’re working with your child, be sure to work in short segments of time as this helps them to stay focused without getting frustrated. While there are many different ways to teach counting, consider using a multitude of different resources and materials.
I don’t think it is any secret that I love to incorporate books into everything! There are just so many amazing ones that create awesome learning experiences for kids. Here are some that would be perfect additions to your home library or classroom library.
Use a mixture of materials to teach counting. While worksheets and workbooks are helpful once they reach kindergarten, kids learn counting best with manipulatives.
Numbers are very abstract, and therefore, cubes, dice, or small toys will help kids make the connection between concrete, tangible items and the numbers they represent. Consider purchasing an affordable set that will be useful now and as your child encounters more difficult math concepts.
This set from Amazon is a great value! It comes with big and small bears, 12 laminated activity cards, a double-sided game, 2 dice, 2 sets of tweezers, 6 cups, a storage container, and a printable e-book. They are great for boys or girls, and they can be used along with your homeschool curriculum or as homework helpers.
Linking counting cubes are another good option! They come in a ton of colors, they are budget-friendly, and they are perfect to use with counting activities you find in workbooks or online. If your child likes Legos, these linking cubes will definitely be a big hit because they will make counting more fun!
Here are some teacher-approved math manipulatives to add to your collection that will be helpful in teaching your kids how to learn counting.
Typically parents don’t consider sorting a form of counting, but this activity helps children form logical principles and sorting is a precursor for learning numbers. This also builds a solid foundation for applying logical thinking as kids get older because it encourages them to start noticing and identifying patterns.
Sorting by size, shape, and color are excellent learning activities you can introduce as early as the toddler years. And remember, sorting doesn’t have to be complex to be effective; it can be as simple as talking about how two things are similar and different.
Sequencing is another great way to help teach your kids how to learn counting skills.
Discussing daily routines and creating a visual calendar with pictures so they can see what comes next in the day are easy ways that you can help your child understand sequencing.
This is a lifelong concept that isn’t just used in math, but other subjects as well. As your student gets older, instead of using simple objects and numbers they will move to number lines and more complex mathematical operations.
Therefore, being proficient in sequencing will be essential!
Tips to Remember
1. Every child learns at a different rate. If they aren’t where you think they should be by the time they start kindergarten, that’s okay. Learn what works best for them when it comes to practicing and even ask them for ideas on how they would like to learn. If you are homeschooling, focus on core objectives and try not to seat the small stuff!
2. It’s better for them to start thinking logically and critically about numbers than to simply see how many they can memorize really quickly.
3. Make sure your child truly understands the numbers 1-10 before moving on to the next set of numbers. They can practice memorizing more numbers and you can introduce them to higher numbers, but focus your time and energy on helping them make the connection between the numeric symbol and amount.
Activities to Help With Learning How To Count
The nice thing about this list of 16 activities that help children who are learning to count is that some of the games can be used before the preschool age.
Introducing toddlers to learning games early helps them get a head start on counting and get excited about math! Hands-on activities also allow them to engage while playing and learning.
You and your child will find these activities fun and engaging! If you love using materials that are holiday and seasonally themed, this is a great starting point.
Everything from counting with Play-Doh to matching Christmas Trees can be found in this bundle. There are even some interesting STEM activities.
To make this even better, the author updates this page regularly, so there are always new ideas being added!
This post offers a wealth of ideas for students all the way up to second grade.
These resources were put together by a teacher, so they’re great whether you are in the classroom or at home. And because these are designed for older kids, many of the activities are worksheet-based.
These 20 counting activities are perfect for preschoolers and kindergarteners who love learning through play.
Most of these activities are hands-on and don’t require many supplies, which is always helpful…especially if you choose one to incorporate one at the last minute into your homeschool schedule.
Even if you have students of different ages, this list of learning games is a winner. My favorites are the ladybug game and the colorful beans!
Math centers are such a fun way to add counting activities into your child’s day. These 16 math centers are perfect if you’re a homeschooling mom trying to teach your child how to learn to count!
The print and play counting cards are colorful and can be used for teaching year-round. These activities are simple and and great for multiple age groups.
You will also find a plethora of online math games that are appropriate for kindergarteners that you can incorporate into your math block. The key is to keep everything engaging for your young learners.
Hopefully, this epic resource list will help you teach your kids how to learn counting as well as how to make the enjoy the process!