Sally is at the beach with her mother, Marion. Sally is 3 years old and she and her mother are going to make sand-castles. As they walk down the stairs to the beach, Marion asks Sally if she can count the stairs. Carefully, Sally says the number names “one”, “two”, three”, … as she puts each foot on a new stair. Saying the number names in order – “one”, “two”, “three”, “four”, “five”, … – is the most important first step for a child to learn to count. In the beginning a child’s success is dependent on their experience in saying number names in order. Their ability to remember the number names in order is very much like learning the alphabet.
Just as Sally and her mother counted steps, there are many everyday opportunities for children to practice saying the number names in order. In our experience children will happily show you how good they are at counting. For example children can, and will, practice counting at breakfast, in the car, on the way to school, coming home, at meals and snack times, and in the bath at night. Just a couple of minutes of your time each day listening to them count will help your child become more skilled at saying the number names in order. The number names are what a child builds upon as they progress from physical counting of things they can see, hear, or touch, to more powerful forms of counting. All children first need to count physical objects: things that can be touched, seen or heard, that can be picked up and moved, or repeated, such as clapping sounds. Physical objects include things around the house, for example, apples, toys and cookies. Physical objects also include things outside the house for example, leaves, rocks and shells. At school children will use physical objects such as counters, blocks, and popsicle sticks. For your child to be a successful counter of physical objects they need to be good at reciting the number names in order.
They also need to use one-to-one correspondence:
The basis of counting is that we match up one collection of things with another: cookies with children, for example.
But when children match cookies one-to-one with people neither the cookies nor the people are usually arranged in straight lines. A child therefore has to track who has received a cookie:
Paying careful attention to how your child counts is important: how they track, what they touch, what they say.
Try to record as much as you can remember in a diary. The diary entries help you begin to see more clearly what it is that your child is doing as they count.
This knowledge is essential as you help them develop more efficient types of counting.