Did you know that children start to learn the basics of math concepts before they even turn 1? That means we need to know how to teach kids to count from the beginning!
Numbers are something we (as adults) use every day. We use numbers in cooking/baking, buying something from the store or online, telling time, and so much more! Numbers are important, so we need to be sure we help our children with this foundational skill!
Developmental Stages of Counting
- Birth to 12 months: babies are learning to think about relative size (a flower is small, a tree is big)
- 1-2 years old: toddlers are starting to understand that numbers relate to “how many”
- 1-2 years old: children may start saying numbers, but they may not be in the correct order
- 3-4 years old: can accurately count up to 20
- 3-4 years old: connect the word “five” to the number 5
For more info on counting and numeracy development, check out this website.
The different components of counting
Believe it or not, counting is not as “easy as 1,2,3”. There are actually a TON of factors that go into a child’s ability to count. Below is a list of the different skills children have to master before they can truly count objects correctly.
- the vocabulary of counting (the names of the numbers)
- the order that numbers must go in (and that the order never changes)
- knowing that the last number named is the answer to “how many”
- rote counting (saying the number words in order, but not counting objects)
- one-to-one correspondence (knowing that one number goes to one object)
If you want a deeper dive into counting, check out this research article from UC Irvine.
When to work on counting
Numbers and counting are all around us, all the time. That makes it really easy to incorporate counting into your everyday routine without having to work too hard. It really just comes from being aware of the opportunities to count throughout your day.
There is a study by Slaughter, Itakura, Kutsuki, and Siegal that shows 18 month old toddlers have a basic understanding of counting objects. That means you have to model counting before your child turns 18 months.
It’s really never too early to start counting in front of your baby. There is no need to drill your toddler on counting or to do it 100 times per day, but you can certainly start integrating number words into your day from the beginning. Read on for great strategies that will help you know how to teach kids to count.
How to work on counting
Believe it or not, the best way to work on counting is while you are playing. There is no need to set aside time to work on counting because you can just use it throughout your day. Check out all of these awesome, easy ways you can count with your child throughout the day:
- counting the stairs as you walk up/down
- counting the number of peas, cereal pieces, or crackers on your child’s plate
- counting all of their stuffed animals, blocks, vehicles
- counting to 3 as you swing them up from your hands
- playing hide and seek and counting to 10 while they hide
- counting fingers and toes while you tickle them
- counting how many times each of you can spin around
- looking out the window together and counting the number of cars, birds, or trees you see
- making a hopscotch game with chalk outside where you put numbers in each square and say the numbers with your child as they jump
- singing a song with numbers in it (and if you are into singing to help your child learn, check out my post here about when you can use singing in your day)
- reading a book with lots of numbers in it
Toys that promote counting
There are plenty of great toys you can get that will help you in your quest to learn about how to teach kids to count. As I’ve mentioned above, you can use almost any toy to model counting, but there are some toys that make it especially easy!
Barrel of Monkeys: This classic game is classic for a reason! It’s a silly, fun way to work on counting as you hook monkeys arm-in-arm in a chain. (Also good for working on colors!)
Bead Maze: This toy reminds me of going to the Doctor’s Office as a kid, and I assume doctors put awesome, educational toys in their waiting room on purpose. A bead maze works on several types of skills, including counting.
Stacking cups: One of my favorite toys at our house is the stacking cups because they grow with my kids! As babies, my kids love knocking the towers over, and as toddlers, it’s so fun to build the towers! No matter which activity your child is into, you can work on counting with them.
Safari Animal Set: Children will love playing with these fun safari toys. You can count two of each animal (they come in pairs with a parent and baby) or you can count all 12 together. I also like counting the number of legs on each animal and comparing it to how many legs we have.
Soft Blocks: These blocks are very colorful and they are numbered 1-10. I like that they are soft and chewable so they can work for any age.
Fishing Toy: Fishing toys are so much fun! They are engaging, silly, and (you guessed it) great for practicing numbers with your toddler.
Bucket of Vehicles: These little vehicles are the coolest! We used to have them in the preschool classrooms I worked in because they are durable and you can focus on so many skills with them, including counting.
Number Puzzle: Puzzles are the best and there are a few really cool options for puzzles that I like. This one is an enormous floor puzzle (it also has the ABCs on it). This one is much simpler, but I still love it!
Rainbow Counting Bears: This is a fun way to work on counting, sorting, and colors. These little bears are durable and cute!
Count and Sort Stacking Tower: This toy is by Fat Brain Toys, and they are one of my favorite companies! They make such high-quality, educational toys! This toy is so colorful and fun! I love that it has the numbers next to each peg so a child can not just hear the numbers, but also see the numeral!
Books that help work on counting
There are so many books that can help you when it comes to figuring out how to teach kids to count. The list is endless, but here are some of my favorites!
- The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
- Ten Little Night Stars by Deb Gruelle
- Sheep Go to Sleep by Nancy E. Shaw
- Stack the Cats by Susie Gharhremani
- One Fox by Kate Read
- 1 2 3 Count with Me by Lucy Martin
- This Little Piggy by Jarvis
- 10 Black Dots by Donald Crews
- When I Am Big by Maria Dek
Songs/Rhymes that are great for targeting counting
- 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed
- The Ants Go Marching
- 1, 2 Buckle My Shoe
- 5 Little Monkeys Swinging In a Tree
- Ten In the Bed (Rollover)
- Once I Caught a Fish Alive
- Johnny Works with One Hammer
FAQs about how to teach kids to count
How do I teach my child to count?
Teaching your child to count starts with modeling. As you go throughout your day find things to count. You can count the stairs as you walk up, you can count the number of peas you eat, and you can count the blocks as you make towers. There are also tons of great books to read, fun songs to sing, and engaging toys that can help you teach kids to count.
When should a child be able to count to 10?
A child starts to understand the basics of counting as early as 18 months old. Children usually start saying number words between 1 and 2 years old. By the time a child is 3 or 4, they should be able to accurately count up to 20. There is a lot of variance in when a child will learn to count.
How do I make toddler counting fun?
Counting can be a really fun activity! You can read silly books about counting or sing fun songs that help with counting. There are also great toys that will help your child work on counting.
What are the stages of counting?
First, a child must hear number words before they can say them. Then, a child has to know the order the numbers go in. Next, they have to know that when they are counting objects one object corresponds with one number. Children will start saying number words before getting them in order and before they can accurately count objects. As you model these things, they will gain accuracy.