I’m pretty sure all of us would be super proud to have one of those kids who is just good at numbers. Personally, I know nothing would make my partner prouder than having a little buddy who loves numbers and data as much as their Dada (... see what I did there?).
But as much as I think numeracy is incredibly important, I take issue with how we usually teach it to young children.
What’s wrong with counting?
I think this is best demonstrated with an analogy: Let's pretend I pull out some things, line them up, and then say “DOH RAY MI FA SO LA TI DOH”. Also, let’s pretend I regularly repeat “DO… RAY… MI!” before we go down a slide or send cars down a ramp.
You are totally going to catch onto that pattern of words if I say it enough! You’ll be able to repeat the routine of pointing to items and calling out the right word in the pattern. You will know how to “countdown” to fun things because you have heard it dozens of times. You might even be able to match those words to a symbol if we practice while looking at them! But… do you actually know what it means to be “LA” or “MI”?
I use this example because I learned these words and can repeat the pattern - but they have NO meaning for me. Someone could sing a ‘LA’ note and I would be completely unable to pick it up. I only know this pattern of words and the tune you say it with… which is how SO many preschoolers relate to counting!
A better way
Our little ones need to learn some basic concepts around numeracy before counting will have meaning for them, so it can be really beneficial to help them learn words related to quantity alongside the names of numbers.
Words related to quantity include (but are not limited to):
One, all, part, whole, some, a lot, a few, more, and less
These words also have the added benefit of being more useful in everyday conversations than number names, so children are more likely to learn and use those terms accurately faster than the number names alone! Once children know these words, you can USE them to deepen understanding of numbers.
How to do it
I like to give out items unevenly and talk about who has MORE or LESS. Maybe you ask your child to bring ONE block, then later ALL the blocks. Talk about when things are FULL or EMPTY. Help them learn to identify A FEW vs. A LOT. Separate WHOLES into PARTS or HALVES.
Even just changing up the order of numbers and clearly demonstrating what THREE looks like compared to ONE can be so helpful, instead of exclusively counting. Try holding up two choices and asking your child if they would like “THREE blocks or ONE block?” so they can start to see that THREE is consistently different than ONE. Moving, manipulating, and seeing how these actions impact numbers will really help children start to understand it when they say “1, 2, 3”.
Make it meaningful
My number one trick for teaching toddlers anything is to make the meaning of the word crystal clear using visuals, comparisons, and linking it to things they can understand.
Before little kids are able to really understand why numbers are meaningful, they have to know that different quantities exist and be able to recognize them. If children have not yet developed a basic understanding of more/less, one/all, a few/a lot, etc… They likely will be able to learn to count or label the numbers but could not answer questions like “HOW MANY” that truly show numeracy.
So I hope this has convinced you that there is more to numeracy than counting, and that those concepts are worth targeting along with number names during your playtime! It is always beneficial to follow your child’s lead and see where their interests take them, and if that is to numbers - amazing! But if not, you can still target those important number skills in other ways.
Thanks for stopping by, I hope this was helpful! I sincerely appreciate you and hope to see you soon!