6 tips to help your child have a solid understanding of counting

Counting is an interesting concept that I find many people have a misunderstanding about. Counting may seem simple but it requires a high level of thinking in order to have a strong foundation of number.

Many parents come to me for advise when their child begins to struggle with Mathematics during school. It is important to gather data on what concepts the child is having difficulty with. Usually a child has formed a misunderstanding or has not gained an understanding about a particular Math concept. Counting is one concept that can cause children a lot of grief later in school if they do not have a strong understanding in this foundational concept.

So what should we as parents and educators be helping our children do when it comes to counting? Below is a list of 6 tips that parents and educators can use to ensure that their child is gaining a strong foundation in counting.

Tip 1: Importance Of Rote Counting

imagesRote counting, which means counting without equipment and any help is the first stage of building a strong foundation in learning to count properly. From the age of 2, children should be observing adults counting often through everyday life experiences. I know my 2 year old son hears me count to three many times in a day before he goes to timeout. Children will begin to emulate adults and start to count, even if it is their own version, mixing lots of the numbers up. Encourage your child to count with you while you are doing your fruit and vegetable shopping (count the potatoes as you put them in the bag) or going up or down stairs.

Once children are able to count to 20 by themselves, they have already succeeded in achieving the first stage in counting. It is hoped that by the time the child is 5 - 6 years old, they should achieve this stage. However there are some 3 year olds that would also be able to achieve this step. It is all about modelling and practice.

Tip 2: Number Mispronunciations 

imagesOnce children become confident with counting, they begin to count faster and numbers begin to sound joined together. If a child is not pronouncing their numbers correctly, it may cause misunderstandings in Mathematics later on. The most common mispronunciation is the “teen” and “decade” numbers.

Many younger children will sound like they are using decade numbers for the teen numbers.

eg 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80, 90, 20, 21, 22

This may seem harmless but it can lead to a lot of misunderstandings. When asked questions like “What number is after 16?”, they will say 70. I try and reinforce the correct pronunciation with the idea of “angry numbers” and “Tea numbers”

I ask the child to show me an angry face and get them to realise what their mouth is doing. (Usually teeth together, mouth slightly apart and stretched). I tell them that this is what the mouth has to do for the angry numbers also known as teen numbers.

I then ask the child to show me how they can pretend to drink tea. (Usually a pincer grip, thumb and pointer finger together, and flicking the wrist). I get them to do this action for the decade numbers “ty” aka tea numbers. 30, 40, 50 etc.

This will help the child distinguish between both the decade and teen numbers. It is also important for us, as adults to pronounce our numbers correctly as children need to hear it, in order to say it.

Tip 3 - Counting forwards and Backwards

For some reason, many children are only exposed to counting forwards and not backwards. Both ways are essential for counting yet as educators and parents, we tend to favour forward counting and give our children little or no experience with counting backwards.

Counting backwards is important for a number of reasons. The most apparent is for the concept of subtraction. Children are more likely to be able to answer the question of what is one more of a particular number, then what is one less of that same number. To work out one less, they usually take one object away and then have to recount all the objects again.

To help your child, start with a particular number of toys on the floor, say 16 and get them to pack them away back in the container. Help them start with the number 16, as they put one away say 15 left, as they put another away say 14 left etc.

Practising to count backwards with make a huge impact on their understanding of how numbers work. Try not to count larger numbers, but instead opt for counting backwards. It will be tricky at first, but once they understand it, they will flourish.

Tip 4 - Use equipment

imgresIt is important for children to see objects in order to help them develop their one to one correspondence. This means that they can point to an object and say a number, then point to the next object and say the next number in sequence.

To develop one to one correspondence, children need to organise their equipment in a logical way. If a child does not know where to start I tend to guide them into putting them in a line or putting them in a pile and they can move the object across while counting.

Using board games is a great way to develop the concept of counting. With my four year old, I play trouble and snakes and ladders a lot. She is now able to move her players piece two and three places without even counting as she has a solid understanding of two and three.

It is essential to focus on small numbers for one to one correspondence for a long time. Once they are really confident with numbers under 10, they should be able to transfer this knowledge to all other numbers.

Tip 5 - Encourage faster ways of counting

images-1Counting by ones is only an efficient strategy for children if there are only a few objects. Help your child understand the idea of counting by twos and why we would count by twos. You could count pairs of socks, people’s legs and people’s eyes by two’s. Let them see a number line so they can visualise the idea of skipping a number.

Once your child has mastered counting by 2’s (both even and odd numbers), get them to count by 5’s and 10’s. Make sure you always start at a different number so they gain the understanding that counting by 5’s is saying every 5 numbers. Eg Counting by 5’s could be :13, 18, 23, 28, 33, 38

Tip 6 - Get rid of the number chart when they are learning to count

imgres-1Using a number chart can really confuse a child. I tell all the educators and parents I work with to get rid of the chart and replace it with a number line. Numbers need to be viewed as linear as they increase over time. A chart can confuse a child as you need to count row by row.

The number charts can make a return however, when the child is in Year 3. By then they understand the concept of how numbers work and will not be confused by how the chart is constructed.

I hope everyone has enjoyed this week’s blog and has learnt something new to take away and try with your child or class. Next Tuesday night we will be having an interactive Q and A on our facebook page for anyone seeking advise or answers about any educational concern they may have. Further information about this will be posted on our facebook page. Make sure you like our page to always receive the latest information from our website and blog.

Until next time …

Kelly Pisani

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