child using bead trail

Counting is important for learning mathematics. There are several stages involved in learning to count and children need the help of adults to master each of the stages. These include children firstly learning the ‘sounds’ and labels of numbers. Being able to count aloud is something that children often enjoy, although they may mix up the order of numbers. Children also need to learn to associate numbers with quantity and so they need plenty of practice counting objects. Here are some activities that you can use at home to help your child learn about counting and numbers.

Counting Rhymes

From 6 months to four years

Counting rhymes help children become familiar with the names of numbers. Rhymes can be introduced to babies, but need to
be continued even when your child is four. Look out for finger rhymes that involve number such as Two Little Dickie Birds or Five Currant Buns in a Baker’s Shop. Choose a time when you are both relaxed and say or sing the rhyme. You will probably need to repeat the rhyme a couple of times before your baby starts to respond and recognise it.

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: It introduces children to the names of numbers and their order.

Movement: Finger rhymes that involve counting can help your child to co-ordinate their hand-eye movements.

Language development: Counting rhymes help children’s production of speech sounds and also help them learn vocabulary.

What next?
Look out for picture books with counting rhymes in them, such as Five Little Ducks by Penny Ives.

Knock Down Play

18 months plus

From about a year old, most children love knocking down towers of bricks or stacking beakers. This type of play is great for helping children to hear and
watch you count. Look out for some stacking beakers or wooden cubes. Make a tower of five of these, counting them out as you build. Step back and watch as your child demolishes them. Build the tower again and once more count the
objects as you stack them. See also if your child will help you.

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: Knock-down play helps your child link the names of numbers to objects. It also helps your child learn about shapes.

Movement: Knock-down play and building towers of bricks or beakers encourages co-ordinated movement.

Early science: This type of play helps your child learn that objects fall to the ground. This is a practical introduction to gravity.

What next?
Involve your child in building larger structures or use different materials such as biscuit tins or cardboard boxes.

Step By Step

From two-and-a-half years

It can be useful for children to link an action to counting. This helps them associate number with quantity. There are many ways of doing this, but one of the easiest is to count steps or stairs as you go up or down them with your child. As learning to count requires children to hear counting over and over again, try building this into your daily routine. Don’t worry if it takes a while for your child to join in or if when they do they mix up the order of numbers.

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: Counting in this way helps your child hear and feel the pattern of numbers.

Movement: Climbing steps is good for strengthening leg muscles.

Co-ordination: This type of activity helps your child co-ordinate their large movements.

What next?
Look out for other actions in your routine that involve movement and which could be counted, such as putting clothes one by one into the washing machine.

toy cash register

Going Shopping

From three years

You can use opportunities when you are out shopping to help your child practise counting. Encourage your child to get a certain number of items – for example, two carrots or one loaf of bread. Stay with one, two or three objects at first, but once your child is counting more reliably start to increase the numbers up to five or so. Don’t expect that your child will always be accurate, so do check what you have before reaching the checkout!

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: This activity will be useful for helping your child count and associate number with quantity.

Confidence: Being given a small task such as fetching ‘two apples’ can help children feel grown-up.

Language: Talking about quantities and also items in the supermarket develops children’s vocabulary.

What next?
Count the items together as you put them on the conveyor belt.

Which Hand?

From three years

The traditional game of showing children two hands and asking them to select one to open is a great counting activity. Start off with one or two objects and see if your child can guess which hand they are in and then count them together. You can also play this game by asking your child to guess which hand has the ‘most’ and which hand has the ‘least’. Or adult and child can swap roles so it is up to the adult to guess ‘which hand’.

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: This activity helps to encourage children to count a small number of objects.

Turn taking: By playing this type of simple game, your child can learn to take turns.

Problem solving: This game helps children to think logically.

What next?
You can extend this game by splitting five or more objects between your two hands. You can then see if your child can talk about which hand has the most.

Board Game

From four years

Look out for simple board games that involve rolling the dice. Games such as Ludo are perfect to help your child count. These games are great because not only do children need to count the number of spots on the dice, but they must also move their counter accordingly. Expect that your child will need plenty of time at first and may require a little help to manage these type of games, but practice makes perfect and your child will soon learn to win.

How this activity helps your child

Mathematics: These games help children to count carefully and see at first hand that some numbers are larger than others.

Social skills: Board games help children to learn to take turns.

Problem solving: Most board games involve a little strategy, which can help develop children’s logic.

What next?
Look out for board games that involve money or games such as Snakes and Ladders, which can help children to recognise numbers up to 100.

Credit: Nursery World