Teaching Preschool Kids How to Count With Simple Strategies

Using toys to count or counting spoonfuls of food can help

A mother teaches her son to count with an abacus.
A mother teaches her son to count with an abacus. Jose Luis Pelaez Inc/Blend Images/Getty Images

Educators typically begin teaching counting concepts to kids in kindergarten and first grade, but you can begin teaching your child math skills earlier. The skills you teach your child can serve as a foundation the child can draw upon when teachers introduce math concepts in kindergarten.

Teaching children to count can be fun and easy by using simple strategies that will help your child develop a fondness for numbers.

The Benefits of Teaching Preschoolers to Count

Teaching preschoolers to count will improve their readiness for other math concepts that will be taught in the future, such as addition and subtraction. When children are about a year old, parents can begin teaching them about numbers and counting by modeling these techniques themselves.

For example, tell your child how old he is while holding up the correct number of fingers. Then ask him to do the same. If your child is not ready to model this behavior, simply continue to occasionally show him. Eventually, he will hold up the correct number of fingers. When he does, say, "That's right!"

Remember to keep these teaching activities fun and carefree. The object here is to demonstrate and model concepts until your child internalizes them and can model them back. Pushing or scolding are not appropriate, as they will cause anxiety in your child and are to be avoided.

Children develop at their own rates, and when they are ready, they will learn and respond.

Examples of Modeling Counting

There are many ways to model early number concepts and counting. For example, when you spoon out food on your child's plate, count aloud the spoonfuls as you drop them on the plate.

When coloring, hand your child a crayon and say, "This is one crayon." Give him two and say, "Here are two crayons." Point to objects in your house and count them for your child. Make counting a natural part of your interactions with your child, and she will not even realize she's learning.

Keep lessons short, and look for opportunities to sneak in counting whenever possible without overdoing it. Preschoolers have short attention spans, so just be creative in finding opportunities without wearing out your child's interest. You may find your child will want to count with you. When possible and safe to do so, allow your child to touch the objects she is counting as she counts or as you count.

Again, remember that modeling is the most important part of introducing numbers to your child, and don't get discouraged if he does not immediately pick up on the task. Simply continue to model regularly, and your child will eventually begin to learn and demonstrate understanding.

While coloring, as your child begins to count by ones, you can ask him to place one object, such as a crayon, in your hand.

Wait for him to respond. If he does not respond, pick up one crayon and say, "This is one crayon."

Continue to demonstrate periodically. Eventually, your child will do what you've asked and will place a crayon in your hand. After he does this consistently, ask him to place two objects in your hand. When he does this consistently, ask for three and so on.

As your child does this activity, he is reinforcing counting skills and building the mental skills necessary to learn to add.

Modeling Counting for Older Children

For children who are 3 and 4 years old, you can practice counting with a number of common toys. Stuffed animals, fist-sized pop-beads and stacking rings are good toys to start with.

You can also teach color names as you count with these kinds of toys. When working with your 3- or 4-year-old child, it is important to keep the activity playful. Play and enjoyable interaction are the most important aspects of teaching and learning at these ages. Sneak the learning in at teachable moments rather than making teaching the focus of playtime.

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