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Early Counting & Quantity

Updated: Mar 12, 2023

When people think about early numeracy, there is the common thought ‘practice counting to 20’ and then advance to ‘adding and subtracting’.


But there is so much more going on in your little one’s brain!

Here are some fun ways you can check to see if your child understands these early counting and quantity principles.



1. Intentionally Miscount

When your child is learning how to count, they are learning the sequential order of numbers. This order is ‘stable’ – meaning that ‘3 always comes before 4’ and ‘10 always comes before 11’. This principle of counting is called ‘stable-order’. We want to teach students that the order when counting is always the same.


As an adult, parent, teacher or tutor… it is utterly hilarious when we make a mistake! Especially ones that your little one can pick up on.


Next time you are counting, skip a number or say a number out of order. Does your child notice the error? Can they correct you? This is a super easy way to check your child’s understanding of the stable order counting principle, especially if your child is nervous or anxious about counting.


This is also a great opportunity for you to model a growth mindset. Show your child that it’s okay to make mistakes. We are all learning and mistakes are part of the journey.


2. Encourage counting during play: Part 1

When you see your little one playing with their toys, ask them to count how many toys they have.


This adds a level of complexity to oral counting. You are now asking the child to give those spoken words meaning in the world around them. If your child is building a tower, ask: how tall is that tower? Can you build a tower that is 12 blocks high?


Understanding that one object correlates to one-number-counted is called one-to-one correspondence. If your child is having a difficult time keeping track of the objects when counting, encourage them to touch each object as they count.


3. Encourage counting during play: Part 2

There is another important skill involved when counting objects. When you count a group of objects, you say, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”. If someone were to ask you how many objects are in the group, you know that the answer is just ‘7’. You don’t need to repeat the whole counting process, “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7”, you just say ‘7’.


The reason you don’t repeat the counting process is because you understand, ‘cardinality’. You know that the last number stated represents the quantity of the whole group.


4. Left-to-Right and Right-to-Left

When counting objects, as long as you count each object just once, the order you count them in does not matter.


When counting a group of blocks, encourage your child to count in different directions. For example: count the blocks from left-to-right, then count the group from right-to-left, top-to-bottom, and bottom-to-top. Get creative! As long we count each object only once, we can count in any order.


When your child understands that, they are demonstrating order irrelevance, an important principle of counting and quantity.


5. Shake it up!

Once your child has gotten the hang of the above skills, you can shake it up!

Grab a bag of chocolates or building blocks. Ask your child, “how many blocks are here?”. Have them count it. Now move the blocks around. Ask again, “how many blocks are here?” Did the child need to count the blocks again? Or did they know that because you did not add or take any away, the quantity stayed the same.


If your child did not need to recount, they understand the principle of conservation.


Many children will pick up these skills quite quickly, but if your child is struggling with early numeracy skills these are the foundational skills that may need to be explicitly taught. Our tutors at Latch Onto Learning use fun and research-based tutoring strategies like the ones in this blog so that your child can find success and enjoy learning!


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