Imagine there are six apples on the table.
You can see that there are six right away because you’ve been using numbers all your life.
But your child’s little and just beginning to count – and it’s not so simple for them.
In fact, they make mistakes when they count objects all the time.
Little kids count ‘badly’ all the time
Maybe they point randomly at those apples counting them without any clue which ones have already been counted.
Or maybe they count more than one number for each apple they touch.
They might do both – because they haven’t understood the basics of counting things yet.
We only count each thing once.
We say a number for each object.
You need to know which ones you’ve counted already so you know when you’re finished.
So how do you get them to count a group of objects correctly?
To teach your child to count things without making mistakes, help them to find the start and end points, and also show them ho to keep track of which things they’ve counted already.
I explain how in this short video – or you can keep reading:
Show them how to know where to start and stop counting
When my eldest was little he collected marbles – mostly Ben Ten ones.
And they were lost for a while – until I brought his old marble run down for the two little ones and found them.
It was awesome because we’d only had about 6 marbles to play with until then and sharing isn’t always their strong point.
The problem was that there were so many of these marbles – and everything has to be ‘fair’.
So they couldn’t just grab a handful each and hoy them into the top of the marble run.
Nope, they wanted to share them out and that meant counting them.
You can probably imagine that that took a long time.
Dozens of almost identical marbles all over the floor and two kids trying to count them at once.
Some fun numbers were suggested – none of them even close to the real number.
And after a while all this random counting wasn’t fun any more but they still hadn’t shared them out so we did two things.
Step one – know where to start and finish counting
The problem with counting a load of things that are spread out everywhere is that there’s no way to know where to start.
They needed a start point and a finish point – so we did what you’d probably do.
We lined ’em all up.
If you’ve got a few things to count, lining them up helps a lot.
It took a little while but we made a big line of marbles so now it was obvious where ‘one’ was going to be – and where they’d stop counting.
But it still wasn’t right – because the littlest was pointing at one marble and saying two numbers – sometimes more.
Step 2: say one number for one object
So next we started tapping each object as we counted it.
This should fix the problem – but it doesn’t always because little ones will tap an object and say more than one word.
To fix that, we made a rule that she can only say the next number when she touched the next object. (If you want to see what that looks like, check out the video.)
So when they touched the first item they said, “One,” and when they touched the second item they said, “Two,” and so on.
(If they’re counting something they can’t line up, like their fingers, show them that they can tap their knee with each finger as they count it. Just like before, they can only say the next number when the next finger touches their knee.)
How can you make sure they understand that they can’t say the next number until they touch the next thing?
If this is tricky, make it a game.
Play a little game where you touch the objects and they say the words – but sometimes you move from one object to the next quickly and sometimes you make them wait a little before you touch the object and they can say the word.
(Tap) 1, (Tap) 2 – pause – (Tap) 3, and so on.
It’s just helps to focus them in on the idea that they have to say the number when they touch the object if they want to count correctly.
Step 3: the last number you say is how many things you have (the total)
So now we were counting those marbles just fine – but there’s one more piece of the puzzle.
The last number they touch is how many things are there.
So in their line of marbles, after we counted every marble once and got to the last one, that last number that we said was how many marbles we had. The total.
I know YOU know that – but your little one might not so it’s worth saying.
Counting objects correctly needs three things
So to get your child counting groups of things correctly (whether marbles or apples or anything else) they need to:
Know where to start and finish
Count each object only once
Know that the number they say when they touch the last object is the total
And it might take a little practise to get all of that right – but that’s okay because there are plenty of things to count around you every day.
How many buttons on your jacket?
Or how many ducks in the bath?
How plates on the dinner table?
Or how many marbles in big brother’s collection.
(And yes, we got them all counted and divided into two groups – one for each kid – and then as soon as they started sending them through the marble run they stopped caring and grabbed handfuls like they could’ve from the start.)
What’s next for counting skills?
Now that your child can count groups correctly, it’s time to talk about recognising numbers.