When children learn rote counting, they are able to count from memory, saying the numbers in the correct order. At this early stage of counting, they are not necessarily attaching any meaning to the numbers but can recite them. For example, although they may be able to count to ten, they might not understand that “ten” represents ten items.
Children can learn to rote count by 1s, 2s, 5, 10s, and many other combinations, including counting backward.
Why Do Children Need to Learn Rote Counting?
Learning rote counting forms the basis for understanding numbers. Children begin to associate numbers with quantities. This provides the foundation for other math concepts, such as adding and subtracting, measuring, place value, and money.
When Do Children Begin to Count?
It’s not uncommon to hear toddlers beginning to count. As they acquire language, they are also developing a growing awareness of numbers. At this early stage, they may be able to rattle off a few numbers, but also may miscount when looking at a collection of objects.
Around ages three to five, children may be able to look at a small number of items and tell you how many there are without needing to count. For example, if there are three bananas on the counter, they may recognize that there are three without having to count, “One, two, three!” Around this age, children also start developing the ability to count on from different starting points, such as beginning at five and counting to ten. Giving them lots of opportunities to experiment with numbers is key to helping them develop their counting skills. So…how do you do that?
There are many games you can play with children who are learning to count by rote. Adding actions to counting can add some fun to the mix! Try tossing a ball back and forth, with each partner saying a number when they catch it. Another way to add actions is to say a number then clap. Children can do this alone, with a partner, or in a group. Try adding in other actions as they count, like stomping their feet or patting their knees.
In classroom settings, children can count around the circle. Or, teachers can have students count during transition periods, such as tidying up or moving to the carpet.
Videos, Songs, and Books
There are many videos children can watch and count along to. A search on YouTube brings up lots of options, geared towards children of various ages and to the type of counting you’d like them to learn.
Singing songs is another way to make rote counting fun and to help children with memorizing numbers. Introduce songs such as “Five Green and Speckled Frogs” and “Five Little Monkeys” to get children singing about numbers.
Check out the library or bookstore for books with numbers like “Ten Little Ladybugs,” “Cheerios Counting Book,” and “How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten?” Reading aloud to children and letting them interact with the book is a great way to introduce rote counting.
Since children learn in so many different ways, think about how you can incorporate numbers into art activities. Children can make ladybugs, each with a number on it, and add the appropriate number of black spots. Or, make cookies (real or pretend!) and decorate them with chocolate chips or sprinkles, using one for the first cookie, two for the second cookie, and so on. If you’re in a large group, count out the cookies to make sure there’s one for everybody!
Numbers are part of our everyday life. Think about times during the day when you can use a routine task as a teaching opportunity. Children can count objects, like the number of forks needed when setting the table or the number of treats needed for guests at a party. Have them guess how many candies are in a package, then count them! You can also encourage counting by discovering how long it takes to do something. Children can count forwards to see how fast something can be done or count down backwards to try to beat the clock. Now counting has become a game!
If there is a special event coming up, like a birthday or a trip, children can use the calendar to count the days leading up to the event. This is another good way to practice counting forwards or backwards. (“There’s only 12 more days until summer!”)
Lots of games incorporate counting. Try board games like Chutes and Ladders, Sorry, and Trouble, where children need to roll a dice or spinner then count out the spaces they need to move. Or, play hide and seek and watch all the counting that goes on! Children will be practicing their counting skills without even realizing it!
What If My Child is Having Trouble Learning to Count by Rote?
If your child is struggling with learning to count, despite your best efforts to support him, chatting with a professional can provide you with advice and help put your mind at ease. School staff and healthcare professionals are great resources to seek out. They can talk to you about typical milestones for children, provide you with recommendations, and let you know where to turn if you suspect your child may have an underlying learning issue.