## Teaching Your Child to Count

Math is omnipresent in our world: at grocery stores (i.e., price per ounce, pound, item, etc.; tax calculation; total bill calculation; etc.), with our banks (i.e., running a balance in our check registers, reconciling our monthly account statements, etc.), with our childcare providers (hourly pay rate times hours worked equals gross compensation), in our kitchens (i.e., using recipes on which we need to divide the quantities of the ingredients so that smaller quantities of the food items can be prepared for our families), with our employers (are our paychecks calculated correctly?), with our government (i.e., income tax calculations), and so much more. In short, math is an essential life skill; one that children must master in preparation to function well as adults. However, math also has more near-term benefit for children: it provides early learners with a clear and objective framework that helps them understand their worlds. For example, how many mittens does a child need? (Probable answer: two mittens, because the child has two hands.) How many winter hats does a child need? (Probable answer: one winter hat, because the child has one head.) The unchanging ideas associated with math (i.e., two plus two will always equal four) help children start to make sense of a world that can be very confusing to them. This basic understanding fosters a sense of mastery, competence, confidence, and security, which are important to children’s developing sense of self. With all these benefits, how can you teach your child to count?

- Teach by repetition. Recite the numbers (initially, one through ten), frequently. Set the numbers to music, as that aids in memory retention. Use visuals to aid in comprehension. For example, hold up fingers sequentially as you count . . . say “one” and hold up your index finger, say “two” and hold up your index and middle fingers, say “three” and hold up three fingers, etc. Any tangible items can be visuals for this instruction: stuffed animals, car and house keys, plates on the dinner table, etc.
- Discuss with your child the numbers involved in your everyday world. “How many dogs do you have? When one of your two dogs gives birth to five puppies, how many dogs do you have then?” “How many grandparents does your child have? When a step-grandparent is added, how many grandparents does your child have then?” “How many cars can be seen on the Interstate? When three leave and two turn onto the Interstate, how many cars can then be seen?” “How many chicken breasts are being prepared for dinner? When one accidentally slips from the skillet onto the floor, with a little help from one of your dogs, how many chicken breasts are then being prepared for dinner?” “How many gloves do you have? Is that enough? How many gloves should you have? How many gloves are you then missing?” “We need three quarts of oil in this engine. We just put in two quarts. How many quarts do we still need to use?”
- Make math fun for your child. Books, toy blocks, healthy snacks (i.e., grapes), and other fun items can be used to count and understand basic math. For example, there are an abundance of children’s books that are targeted toward math skills acquisition; these books are often brightly colored and involve images of animals. Toy blocks, healthy snacks, and other fun items can be used as enthusiastic demonstrations of math. (“Look at all your pretty blocks! Neat! How many of them do you have? Let’s find out! Yay!” “What would happen if I put two of those blocks over here? How many blocks would you still have in this spot?”) Additionally, myriad websites are designed to teach young learners math in a fun and stimulating context.
- Never say negative or discouraging things about math to your child. Sentences like “math is hard” may cause your child to expect to fail or to find lessons unpleasant and difficult.
- Celebrate your child’s successes. (“Nine! You have nine blocks! That’s right! Good job, Johnny! I’m so proud of you! You are really getting the hang of this math stuff!”)
- Do not punish your child when he makes a mathematical mistake. Instead, be encouraging. (“Oh, so close! You actually have four grapes, not three. That’s ok, though, you were close. Let’s count those together, just to be sure. Ok? One, two, three, four. Yes, four grapes. Yay!”)
- Gradually increase the skill level of your child’s math challenges as his degree of mastery increases. Once he has mastered one-digit numbers (0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9), begin presenting him with math challenges involving two-digit numbers (10, 12, 25, 48, 99, etc.).

By following the tips above, you can teach your child to count and set the stage for your child’s bright future!

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