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Easy ways to teach your child to count

How to teach your child to count


Key topics: modelling, one-to-one correspondence, Jo-Anne Lee, four concepts of counting, tens frame, subitizing, group counting,

Did you know that children show 4 distinct stages of counting? As an early years educator, I am often told by parents that ‘my child can count to 100.’ And yes this may be exciting, but does the child really understand the numbers and what they represent? Or is it ROTE learning? In this article, I will show you the easy ways to teach your child to count.

Our goal is to have children counting in the correct sequence and corresponding the correct number to the items and using the last number name given to identify the total number of items; this is called rationale counting.

Let’s identify the four stages and how to best support your child in this stage

Stage 1: children are pointing to each item, but saying an incorrect sequence.

Stage 2: children count in the correct sequence, but count too fast as they point to items, giving items more than one number.

Stage 3: children count in the correct sequence but count too slow as they point and miss some items

Stage 4: children count in the correct sequence, point to each item and give just one number name to each item.


Identify how far the child can count successfully. Using counters or items of your choice place the items in a straight line. We place them in a straight line so that children can easily see what they have and have not counted. Only build on by one number at a time, so that the children recognise what number consistently comes next.

You can use the following 4 activities as a ‘learn to count’ process:

Activity 1

Modelling counting and ‘one-to-one correspondence’ is crucial and should be done often. Have your child touch one counter, say the number and move the counter slightly away from the others. This will show the child that we have already counted this item. Lift your finger off the counter and place it onto the next, while saying the next number name and again, moving it to the side.

Do this up to the number they are successful to and then add one more. At the end of counting, talk about the final number name. For example ‘we have counted 5 items altogether, there are no more and no less, the last number we finished on was 5, so we have just 5.’ Ask your child to find the number 5 on a counting chart (100’s Download here). You can use words like ‘before’ and ‘after’ as you discuss the number you are identifying.

Activity 2

In this case, we remove the straight line of counters and instead place counters randomly. The same principals of the above counting strategy remain; touching each counter, moving them, giving them one number name, in the correct sequence. The next part of this activity is to place the very same counters into a straight line and count them again using the same principals. Our goal is for children to know ‘conservation’ of number which is that a given number of counters does not change just because they are moved around.

It is important for children to have exposure to different representations of numbers including the name, how it is written, what the number of items look like in a line, in a group and in a tens frame. Our Number mastery pack  includes numbers to 20, more and less, matching numbers with names, ordinal numbers (1st, 2nd, 3rd) and much more.

Going further: Ultimately, we want children to feel excited, comfortable and confident and to be able to identify patterns and relationships in numbers. The world is so intrinsically shaped by numbers.

Activity 3

Subitizing or group recognition is the ability to instantly see ‘how many’; subitizing saves time for children’s counting,  helps with mental addition and subtraction and aids the development of more sophisticated counting skills. Pre-school children can usually subitize up to 3 objects. Developing subitizing can be done with simple flash cards, dice or dominoes.

I like to start with ‘Tens frames.’ Tens frames are made up of 5 blocks on the top and 5 blocks on the bottom – making ten spaces altogether.  These can demonstrate subitizing in a lineal, rectangular way which is easiest for children. Using tens frames can also help children identify that 5 and 5 more is 10 or if I have 3 then 2 more make 5.

Activity 4

More and less are powerful words in mathematics and children should have time to explore their meaning, when counting, as it eventually translates into place value and again, more sophisticated math’s problems.

Use our pyramid (download here) to show children that as they add more items to each line these numbers can be identified as more and less visually and talk about before and after, again supporting the notion of the correct number sequence. Add the items in the corresponding line, lining them up with the numbers above. (jo insert picture)

Once children have this concept, move the counters so they don’t match up. You may find children need to count them all over again initially, but our goal is number conservation – the number does not change. Download our free pyramid tower (insert hyperlink)

Get your child being a master at numbers by downloading our ABC Number Mastery toolkit – it has everything you need to be a master with numbers (insert link – number mastery)

Jo-Anne Lee

B.Ed, M.Ed;

Faculty’s top graduating student award, Monash University