Kevin Williams is the Program Consultant for K-8 Numeracy with the Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board, and a senior tutor with Homework Help, the free online math resource for kids in grades 7 to 10.
Counting! We all do it on a regular basis throughout our day whether we are counting items in our grocery basket, or counting coins to pay for that morning coffee. It is a practical mathematical concept that we learn very early on, and that we use for the rest of our lives.
You may think of counting as something kids learn prior to entering school, but the math concept of counting actually exists in the Ontario Math Curriculum until grade 5. The process and strategies are the same, but the range of numbers increase, and in grades 4 and 5 kids start to count by fraction amounts (e.g. halves, thirds, fourths) and decimal amounts.
I have five kids, and I remember all of them could recite their numbers at an early age - “1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 10…” - well, nobody said they were perfect! But what they were doing is developing a sense of rote counting which really means that they were beginning to memorize the pattern. This is important, but it doesn’t mean kids have a meaningful sense of numbers or counting. So for example, your child may be able to recite numbers from 1 to 10 (rote), but may not know that 10 is a greater number than 5 (meaning).
How do you help your child develop good counting strategies? Here are five fun and easy tips:
Count, Count, Count!
Ask your kids to count items whenever an opportunity presents itself: “How many crayons are in the box?, “How many items are in the grocery cart?” And remind your kids of the following:
» Counting words have an order to them (1, 2, 3, 4, not 1, 2, 5 7).
» The last number you count is how many there are in the group (crayons, groceries).
» No matter how many times you count the 5 Smarties there are only going to be 5 (unless you get hungry!).
» Encourage your child to use whatever strategies help him or her keep track - touching each item, moving the item, pointing at it.
Sing counting songs, read counting books, use counting in games.
» Hide and Seek, skipping rope, and card games like GO FISH, are everyday examples of games that can support counting.
» Ask your child to count both forward (1, 2, 3, 4, ….) and backwards (10 , 9 , 8, 7, 6, 5, ….)
» Sing songs like "Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed", or "99 Bottles of Pop on the Wall" (for those really long road trips!).
»There are lots of counting books out there, here are a few:
1, 2 Buckle My Shoe
10 Black Dots
One Little Chicken
1+1=5 and Other Unlikely Additions
Early on you and your child will probably focus on counting by 1’s but as they transition into grade 1 you should start helping your child practice counting by 2’s, 5’s and 10’s.
» Once your child gets it, start counting from different starting points – not always 0 or 1 e.g. 3, 5, 7, 9 ….”
» Have your child skip count when playing a board game, to advance to the next spot.
» Have your child skip count when sorting out objects like toys or food.
This is a counting strategy where we start at a number other than 0 or 1 and then count onward from that point e.g. 4, 5, 6, 7. This is a great strategy that also supports addition skills.
» Use a number line and have your child locate numbers and count on from different starting points.
» Play games like HOW MANY? Try covering up a number of the items (you can hold them in your hand), and then ask your child questions e.g. “I have four in my hand, how many are there in total?” Or “There are 9 in total, how many are in my hand?”
Look for Common Representations of Numbers
It’s important for kids to recognize common representations of numbers. Provide opportunities to see as many different representations as possible – from the numbers on playing cards, to numbers on game die, to numbers on coins or bills.