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Child counting on fingers

Four Tips to Teach Your Child to Count to Twenty

Helping your child to develop strong number sense is one of the best ways to help them prepare for math in school and later in life. Luckily, there are many fun and easy ways to help your child learn to count to 20. The following tips will help you teach your child to count to 20, while also helping your child develop a strong understanding of numbers.

Child counting on fingers

The Numbers behind “The Numbers”

Based upon helping tens of thousands of parents get their children ready for school, we’ve learned a few things about what kids know and when they know them. If you’re 4 year old is struggling to write the numbers from one to five, they’re not alone. In fact, over half of their peers (57% based upon our math) haven’t come close to mastering that skill yet. By 5 years old, though, that number drops significantly. See more insights with our KinderIQ Data tool.

Counting Skills for 4 year olds vs 5 year olds

Teach Your Child Rote Counting

Rote counting is the ability to say numbers in order without connecting them to any context or concrete objects. This is a skill that most children learn without any direct instruction, much like the way they learn the words to a song or nursery rhyme. Teach your child to count the numbers out loud by singing simple counting songs and counting objects in daily life.

Nursery rhymes like One, Two Buckle My Shoe and songs like Ten Little Monkeys will help familiarize your child with numbers. When your child is able to count from one to twenty from memory, they have mastered rote counting. 

Develop One-to-One Correspondence

Rational counting is what happens when your child truly understands that numbers correspond to objects. In order to develop skills in rational counting, children must develop one-to-one correspondence. This means they understand that each number spoken corresponds to one object being counted. 

Once your child has mastered rote counting to 20, you can evaluate whether they have one-to-one correspondence by asking them to count a small number of objects, such as five blocks or small toys. If your child is able to pick up one toy and say “one”, a second toy and say “two” and so on, that demonstrates that they have mastered one-to-one correspondence.

Children hit this developmental milestone on their own timeline, usually around the age of three. If your child is older and has not developed one-to-one correspondence, practice counting in everyday life situations. Count in front of your child while unpacking groceries, cleaning up toys, or setting the table. 

One-to-one correspondence isn’t directly taught, but demonstrated. With time and patience, your child will begin to understand. You can help your child along by providing opportunities to count.

Develop Rational Counting Skills 

Once your child has solid one-to-one correspondence, they are ready for rational counting. The easiest way to help your child develop these skills is through every day life opportunities. You can also teach your child rational counting skills through games.

Ask your child to count out six spoons for the dinner table, put twelve cans into the shopping cart at the store, or count how many toys they put away in the basket. There are a variety of commercially available learning games that focus on counting skills, but you can also make up games with materials around your home.

Look for natural opportunities to count in everyday life. For example, ask your child pick three books to read at bedtime. Count how many legs you can see on the lions at the zoo. Count the number of cars that drive by your home when playing in the yard. Some easy counting games are described below. 

Domino Math

Draw one dot on an index card and write the corresponding numerals on another index card. Draw two dots on an index card, then draw the corresponding numeral on another index card. Continue this pattern up through five, ten, or even 20, then and challenge your child to match the dots with the corrresponding numerals.

It’s better to start small. For example, start by giving your child index cards with dots and numbers from one through four. If your child is able to successfully match up the cards, add one more card to the mix (one through five). Add one card each time you play, as long as your child is able to successfully match up the dots and numerals.

Snack Math

At snack time, give your child a piece of paper with four squares and different numbers on each square. Then have your child put the correct number of cereal pieces or crackers onto each square before eating them.

Focus on Simple and Fun

Your child may become frustrated if you push them to do tasks that are too challenging or overwhelming. This can leave your child not wanting to do math or counting games. Keep it simple by starting with smaller numbers and gradually working your way up to larger ones. By giving your child lots of time and space between activities, and by making the counting activities fun for your child, their skills will continue to grow and soon they will have solid skills counting to 20 and beyond.

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