Is your child struggling to learn to count objects or numbers? For example, do they count one, two, then jump straight to four? Or maybe they can count through a problem, like 'there are three apples,' but can't reach that answer without counting. It can feel frustrating to run into problems like these, and can leave you wondering how to help. Read on for answers, and two activities you can enjoy with your child.
How Do Children Count?
As adults, we take for granted that we've already learned how to count objects and numbers. We forgot 'how' a long time ago! In truth, learning to count is a complex process. Often, children need to learn to count in two stages: verbal counting, and counting by object.
What is 'verbal counting?' It means to recite aloud. Guiding young children to count from 1 to 10 out loud helps engage their brains in multiple ways. You can let your child listen to children's counting songs, so that they become familiar with the order of the numbers as they sing along.
When your child can recite or sing the numbers in order, it means they've learned to count. Now they're ready for the next part of the process: counting by object.
Counting By Object
At this stage, your child is ready to try associating the idea of a number with actual real-world things. For example, if you set three apples on the table, your child can count how many there are. This seems simple, but involves a genuine connection between abstract ideas (the numbers) and concrete items (the apples). If your child is not quite ready to make that leap, you can help them to bridge the gap. First, have them point to each apple one by one. Then count them together. Try counting through the numbers together at first before letting your child continue unassisted. Think of these methods as holding their hand while they learn to walk - little by little they will need their hand held less often, until eventually they don't need it held at all.
Your child is new to counting, and hasn't yet 'internalized' the idea. It's an unfamiliar process, and that means going slowly and making mistakes along the way. Not to worry! Here are two interesting activities that will help them to consolidate what they've learned and grow their understanding.
1. By the Handful
Put a pile of small items on the table, like peanuts or pieces of candy. You and your child can each grab a handful. Then count how many you've grabbed. You can lay out some items as well, to give your child a specific number to count. If they find this activity too easy - and that's excellent progress! - then increase the difficulty. For example, if there are five pieces of candy on the table, tell your child you want seven pieces on the table. Let them reach for the bag and place two more to reach the target number.
2. Help the Paper Cups Go Home
For this game, you'll need a sheet of paper and nine paper cups. First, draw nine circles on the paper, each with the corresponding number of dots inside. Then, write the numbers 1 to 9 on the bottom of the cups. Guide your child to place each cup over its matching circle of dots. This builds on their number-object connection and can help them learn to 'skip' the process of counting, too; to understand that 4 comes after 5 without counting from 1 first.
This game comes with a little story: it's getting late, and the paper cups are all sleepy. They want to go home! But each needs a little help from your child to get back to the right house so they can get some sleep. A setup like this can make your child feel important, that they have a mission with an objective, and will make them feel successful when they've accomplished it.
Before you know it, your child will be counting things everywhere you go, from boxes of pasta in the supermarket to people passing by on the street. Don't forget to encourage them for being such enthusiastic students!