Counting

Counting
Your child will quickly learn to count to 5, and then to 10, just like a nursery rhyme she learns by heart. But it will take a lot more practice for her to understand that when we count, we are giving each object a number and the last number represents the total number of objects in the group.

Your child will quickly learn to count to 5, and then to 10, just like a nursery rhyme she learns by heart. But it will take a lot more practice for her to understand that when we count, we are giving each object a number and the last number represents the total number of objects in the group.

It’s only by counting different groups of things (her fingers, the cat’s paws, etc.) that she’ll understand the abstract concept of quantity. You can therefore really help her if you tell her the total number of objects or elements before counting them or immediately afterwards: “I see 3 flowers – 1, 2, 3! How about you? How many birds do you see?” (See the table below “Learning to count: a step-by-step process”)

Soon, your child will also learn that each number corresponds to one or several symbols. You can help her become familiar with the shape of the symbols by helping her make them with play-dough, having her notice the numbers on cars, houses, etc., or even, by looking at a calendar.

A few ideas…

“We sometimes count together the contents of our fruit basket filled with apples and oranges. We subtract, by taking out 1, 2 or 3 fruits, and then we count how many are left. To add, I transfer the fruits from one container to another that already has some in it and count the new total. I use snack time to practice division. I take 4 fruits and ask my children: there are 2 of you, so how many fruits does that make each?”
- Herisoa Rabe, mother of 2-and-a-half-year-olds Dera Lucas and Laza Thomas

“With my 2-and-a half-year-old son, everything is a pretext for learning to count. In the bath, we count his toes as we wash them. During story time, after a first read through, we look at the pictures and count the number of ducks, balls or cats. We also count the toys as we put them away. Or sometimes we sing nursery rhymes like: 1, 2: buckle my shoe. 3, 4: shut the door. 5, 6: pick up sticks… He enjoys these songs and dances along to them while learning to count!”
- Christine Beyrouti, Marieville, mother of 2-and-a-half-year-old Nathaniel and 2-month-old Rose

“I often use our family calendar, which is right next to the kitchen table. We count how many “beddy-byes” are left before an activity, for example. I also show them the dates of their birthdays by helping them memorize the numbers that correspond to their date of birth (e.g.: for June 15, they memorize the 1 and the 5). They then recognize these numbers everywhere!”
- Isabelle Moreau, Montreal, mother of 11-year-old Luka, and 5-year-olds Lilou and Milla

Learning to count: a step-by-step process
If you ask a 4-year-old to represent her age with her fingers, she’ll show you 4 fingers with her thumb folded. If you then show her 2 fingers on each of your hands and ask her: “Like this?” She’ll answer: “No. Like this,” while showing you her hand with 4 fingers raised again.
Children first learn numbers as fixed representations. They’re eventually able to understand the “idea” of a number, but it takes some time. The more you show them different types of 4—for example, a dog’s 4 paws, a table’s 4 legs, 4 cookies and so on—the more they’ll understand that it’s all the same number.
It’ll also take your child some time to understand that each number word represents a number quantity. At the start, she doesn’t know that the 5 corresponds to a total quantity. If you count using your fingers, she thinks that the 5 is the last finger only! To help her along, say the total number of things before or right after counting them. For example: “Let’s count the oranges: 1, 2, 3, 4 oranges. You see, there are 4!” Or: “Look! There are 3 flowers: 1, 2, 3.”
Soon, your child will understand that when she counts, numbers become “greater” and that the sequence of numbers is regular. She will understand that 8 is greater than 7 because it comes after, and we always add 1 to each number in the series (7 + 1 = 8; 8 + 1 = 9, etc.).