As your child is learning to count, it’s great to give them lots of opportunities. To you, it may appear that they’re learning an important mathematical skill, but to them it’s a game, and it’s fun! Here are some simple ways you can spice up the “counting game” with new games that are easy to play almost anywhere, and help build a young child’s mathematical brainpower.
Hidden Objects: When your child has counted a number of objects, hide them by covering them with your hand, a blanket, a bowl, or a book, or simply turn around with your child so you can no longer see. Ask, “how many are there?” and see if they give you the same number.
Why? Part of learning to count is recognizing that the number you say is how many there are, and that objects don’t have to be seen to have a count. Seeing whether your child can tell that the number of hidden objects is the same as the number they counted gives you insight into what they understand about counting.
Variation: After your child has counted a set of objects, mix the objects up, push them closer together, or spread them farther apart, and ask how many there are. Early on, a child will recount the set. With counting experience, though, they will learn that moving objects around doesn’t change how many there are.
Guess the Number: Ask your child, “How many [crackers, birds, toys] do you think there are?” Then count together to see how close the guess was.
Why? Build number sense! It’s horribly difficult to tell the difference between, say, 12 and 13 at a glance. But a collection of 7 things looks very different from a collection of 15 things. Guessing before counting can help children to get a sense of the relative size of different quantities.
Variation: Give a child two options. For instance, if there are 6 swings at the park, ask, “Do you think there are 6 swings, or do you think there are 10 swings?”
Now How Many? If your child is counting objects that you can manipulate (beans, toys, spoons, etc.), take one away or put one in after your child has counted and ask, “Now how many are there?”
Why? This will help your child learn how to utilize the number sequence for simple addition and subtraction. Initially, children will need to re-count the set of objects, and that’s okay! Be sure to remind them how many there were before, and how many there are now. Eventually, your child may realize that all they have to do when you put one in is to say the next counting word, and all they have to do when you take one away is to say the previous counting word.
Variation: If a child can play “Now How Many?” without recounting, begin removing or adding two objects at a time, or even three.
Backward and Forward: Count steps as you’re walking. Stop on a certain number of steps and walk backwards, counting down. Make a game of it, counting up for walking forward and down for walking backward. When they get the hang of it, let your child lead.
Why? Being able to count backward is an important skill for early arithmetic. It also helps solidify a child’s familiarity with the number sequence.
Variation: Count when you walk up or down stairs with your child. If you’re walking up or down an unfamiliar flight of stairs this could also be combined with “Guess the Number.” Guess how many stairs there are, and then count (up or down) to see if you’re right.