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Welcome to Preschool Math, a series that will highlight articles on developing patterning, sorting and number sense with your preschooler! Read the patterning article and the sorting article—both important early math skills!

We all know counting is an important skill to work on with young children. But there is so much more to counting and number concepts than simply teaching your child to say, “1, 2, 3”! Counting means naming 1, 2, 3, and so on, for each object being counted. I’ve seen many preschoolers who get confused when we count objects and compare quantity because they’ve simply been taught to say numbers from memory, not connecting the concept of counting actual objects.

However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be counting with your children before they fully understand it! On the contrary–you can make counting and numbers a part of your life every day with meaning. Once you begin counting objects and comparing quantities, your child will quickly catch on and you’ll realize that you don’t have to have any special toys or training to help your child become a counting pro!

Start by building your home library with some fun counting books. Don’t worry about complexity when looking for beginning counting books! One of our favorites at my house is Eric Carle’s 1, 2, 3 To the Zoo. This book keeps each page simple, with only the printed number and that number of animals on the page. While reading it, I point to the number, naming it, then point to each animal as we count it.

Here are some simple ways to incorporate counting into everything you do:

  • Count, count, count. Count everything you do.
  • Count the stairs as you walk up and down them.
  • Count fingers as you wash hands.
  • Count crackers as you place them in front of your child for a snack.
  • Count shoes as you put them on. They key here is you’re counting items!

When your child counts objects, have your child touch, or even pick up to place in a line, each item as it’s counted. This helps a child with only naming one number for each object and helps with counting in order.

Once your child begins counting and identifying numbers, there are some great ways to make learning fun. An important pre-kindergarten number concept skill is to be able to match a written number with the quantity represented by that number. For example, matching five balls with the number five. I’ve developed some DIY, very easy to make, games to practice this skill.

In this game, simply cut paper (I use card stock) and write numbers on them. Then lay out groups of items in different quantities. Your child can then match the number on the card with the number of items in each group.

I also used card stock to create this number matching game. I wrote numbers on half the cards and drew a number of dots on the other half. You could easily draw something more fun such as starts, hearts or even use stickers. I like to keep things simple, though! Play as you would play Memory.

Lastly, hide the cards with the dots around the house (or room). Have your child find them (that’s the fun part—you’ll be surprised at how much your preschooler will enjoy this!). Then, using small items such as coins, goldfish crackers or Legos, have your child place the items on top of the dots, counting them as they are matched. One-to-one correspondence as your child counts is crucial to counting correctly.