How and When to Teach Your Child to Count?

As a parent, you are your child’s first teacher, and they should learn the earliest skills and concepts from you. This is true not just for counting, but for writing, reading and other skills, but today we will focus on numbers. The skills that you teach them will be a great foundation on which your child can build their understanding of future math concepts as well as their capability of dealing with more complex math ideas that they will be expected to learn later in life, such as addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division.

Always make sure that the activities that you engage in when teaching your child are carefree and fun. The object is for your child to internalize and model concepts that you demonstrate through repetition. Don’t be overbearing or too demanding of your child. That type of behavior is guaranteed to create anxiety and will prove counterproductive in the end.

Teaching your child to count should not be difficult; it should be an easy and fun process in which you will use some simple techniques to help your child get accustomed to numbers. At first, you will use their toys or food to get them to recite numbers and count in sequence.

Baby Steps

When your little one is really young – at around 12 months, you can start introducing the idea of numbers into their life. A great way to do this is by counting some everyday items like toys or buttons on your shirt. Another very helpful things in this stage are songs and rhymes that focus on counting such as ‘Here’s the Beehive’, ‘Five Little Ducks’, ‘One, Two, Buckle My Shoe’, etc. This is the earliest stage of learning, so there aren’t any particular principles that you need to adhere to. Just make sure you get some numbers into their head and have fun chanting and singing with your child.

At the age of 2 or so, your kid may be able to learn to count to ten by rote, even though you should be aware that they don’t really understand the concept of counting objects at this point and you shouldn’t be surprised if some of the numbers switch places in their counting. Such mistakes are nothing to worry about at this stage, it’s all about learning the names of the numbers. Once your kid becomes comfortable using the ten basic numbers, you can start trying to teach them sequencing.

Basically, this means that they can begin the process of learning that no matter which number they start on, the system of counting remains the same. Just try to start them off on a number different than 1, and see if they can continue the sequence upward. After that, you can try going in reverse as well, but don’t be surprised if they get confused, since this may be a little too advanced at this moment.

Active Learning

The next step in the process of learning consists of your child being able to associate numbers with different objects, even if the number they say doesn’t necessarily correspond with the actual number of objects. For example, you may teach your child that there are three pictures on the wall in your living room, but don’t be surprised when she says that there are three pictures on every wall that you ask about, regardless of how many there actually are.

Also, they may still be confused by the distribution or size of the objects, so what they should be learning at this stage is that three pictures are three pictures, no matter whether they are spread across the wall, or packed tightly together, or whether they are huge or tiny.

child playing with train numbers

To have this concept easily understood by your child, make a point of touching, or at least pointing to each object as you count them. This way, your child will understand that the last number you say, also represents the total number of objects in the group. You should also have them count the objects from right to left, or bottom to top so they would understand that order makes no difference. The number remains constant regardless of how they count the items.

Cardinality, Addition, and Subtraction

Understanding the idea that adding or taking away objects from a group changes the number associated with that group comes next. This is when your kid will be able to tell that different walls have different numbers of pictures, different tables have different numbers of plates, etc. At this point, they should also be able to say how many of those objects there are in a said group, as long as the number doesn’t exceed ten.

A great way to get to this point as early as possible is to keep counting objects around you when you’re with your kid and encourage them to join you. Food works very well here because you can introduce the concept of subtraction as your child eats whatever is on her plate piece by piece.

mother teaching a child to count

If you feel like your child has mastered the concepts of counting forward and backward, as well as cardinality (the idea that the last number counted represents the total number of objects in the collection), you can try adding or taking away multiple objects, and prompting your kid to tell you how many there are now, without recounting.

Conclusion

You might never have thought about counting all that seriously, and may have thought that it was one of those things that children simply develop on their own. However, as is the case with most things, if you have a strategy and put in the work, your child will grasp the principles of counting more quickly and effectively.

Keep in mind that each child is different and they all develop at their own rate, so the ages we have written here are meant only as a guideline. Some children may figure out the concept of sequencing numbers and count up and down much faster than others, and if your kid doesn’t adhere to the age ranges presented in this article, that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. Stay patient and supportive and the results will follow.

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