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Teaching Children How to Count

Tania K. Cowling
April 1, 2015

Stimulate your child's innate curiosity with numbers by teaching her how to count with fun and engaging activities.

Your budding brainiac is picking up skills fast, but she's no math scholar -- yet. Turn your home into your child's first classroom: There's plenty of math opportunities waiting for you. You can use fun and engaging math-based activities to teach your child how to count and to prep her for skills she'll need later in school.

Counting is a very important part of child development and begins between the ages of 3 and 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control. "What is important to childhood learning is the child's sense of ownership of the process and an 'I can do it' feeling," explains Dr. Jennifer Jones, founder of Green Ivy Schools and author of "The Three P's of Parenting." "Equally important to a child's intellectual development is the understanding of knowledge in context. The sooner children begin to see numbers (and anything else) in relation to various contexts, the earlier and more resolutely they will embrace reading and written or verbal expression," she adds. Learning math skills, Jones says, can help children navigate new situations as they learn to use clues to solve for unknowns.

Teaching your child how to count just involves a little creativity to get them interested in numbers and how they work. "It's simple," says L. Robert Furman, a Pennsylvania-based principal, the author of "Instructional Technology Tools" and an educational blogger for the Huffington Post. "Count everything, from how many fingers you have to how many action figures or toys you own, to how many cups of water you add to your dinner recipes. Counting is everywhere -- you just have to engage your child to do it, and make it fun!" Here are five ideas to get you started.

  1. Talk it Out
    Have mathematical conversations with your youngster -- fill her world with "How many?" questions. For example, you can say, "You have three yellow buttons and I have two blue ones. How many buttons do we have together?" Use terms such as "more," "less," "how many," "same," "different," "add" and "subtract" as much as possible.
  2. Count Around the House
    For a fun (and delicious) counting activity, Furman suggests whipping up a meal. "Have your child count along with your dinner recipe. How many teaspoons of salt? OK, let's count them: One, two, three," notes Furman. He also suggests engaging your child in counting the number of books she owns. Have her sort the books into groups of five based on some theme, like putting all the books with red covers in one pile and the blue ones in another. Or how about having your child count how many pairs of socks you put away in the laundry?
  3. Make a Craft
    You can also give your child some twine and piles of dry macaroni or O-shaped cereal and let her make a necklace. She can count the pieces as she threads them onto the necklace. Or have her sort and count different craft items into an empty egg carton before she starts creating. Fill the cups with pompoms, buttons and faux gems that she can glue onto her artwork.
  4. Read Counting Books
    Counting books are awesome learning tools -- books about mathematical concepts show youngsters that numbers are a part of everyday life. Stimulate interest in learning how to count with a cute book you can share with your child. "Some counting books are effective, and others fall short. How to choose? Look for counting books that provide scenes, situations or a story to go along with the counting process," says Jones. By adding a story, your tot may not even realize she's learning -- she'll simply be having fun.
  5. Have a Sing-a-Long
    Your little one doesn't care if your voice is off-pitch, so don't be afraid to belt out a song together. As Jones explains, "Songs and counting go hand in hand since rhythm is driven by count." Start with simple nursery rhymes like "One, Two, Buckle My Shoe" or "Five Little Ducks," then get creative and change the words to a familiar tune. For example, while cutting a fruit salad in the kitchen, you can adapt the song "10 Little Indians" and instead sing, "One little, two little, three little apples; four little, five little, six little strawberries," and end up at "10 little blueberries."

Numbers are everywhere, and opportunities for learning math skills surround you. When teaching your tot how to count, do as Jones suggests: "It is always best not to make a production out of the fact that they are counting, but simply initiate the counting, model it and most of all, have fun with it!"

Want more for your little scholar? Check out these 8 Cool Math Games for Kids.

Tania K. Cowling is an author and freelance writer with a background in early childhood education and parenting.

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