Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Easy Ways to Teach Numbers, Counting & Maths

Numbers, Numbers everywhere.... we are all about numbers this week leading up to the celebration of Numeracy Week here in Queensland. I put some glitter paint into zip lock bags for Master 4 to practice writing his numbers. When teaching numbers I find children respond really well if they are able to touch and feel numbers and make numbers in different textures.

Though preschoolers generally don’t recognise it, maths is another way to understand and make sense of the world, much like language. Like words, maths is used everywhere and is an integral part of everyday life. What exactly is maths? Simply put, maths is the observation, identification, description and explanation of numbers, space, relation, and order. Counting, measuring, problem solving, reasoning, and identifying shapes and patterns are the activities of math. Preschoolers, who have opportunities to learn maths through play and everyday interactions are gaining the foundation for maths development.

Beyond exposing young kids to maths, fostering a healthy attitude is key. A maths attitude includes observing that maths is all around, identifying maths as fun and interesting, and believing that maths is something you can do. When a child notices that mittens make a pair, observes the similar shape of stop signs, or delights in counting animal crackers, this child is not only doing maths, but also showing a healthy math attitude.

The best way to teach preschool children (or students of any age) is in a purposeful manner—in a context that has a purpose to the child. Teaching moments can be created by playing a game that involves mathematics (e.g. recognizing the number of dots on a die or a domino). Everyday activities provide a wealth of real learning opportunities. Basically, as parents we need to find or manufacture situations that create a real need on the part of the child to use, and thus learn or practice math. Below I have listed some ideas for you to use at home. You will probably recognise many of these that you already do on a regular basis without even intentionally teaching to your child!

Count everything
As you go up steps, eat strawberries, pick flowers, put up Lego's, you name it.

Count to 60 while brushing their teeth
Master 4 and I take turns brushing his teeth and I count out loud to 60 for each of our turns. It's an easy way for him to understand the concept of one minute and he's picked up most of his higher numbers too.

Use Card Games
From UNO to Go Fish, these are fun and easy ways to get to know numbers and their relation to each other.

Cook Together
Include your child when you cook. Have him count the cups of milk, the tablespoons of margarine, or the eggs when you cook. Show him the recipe as you cook so he can follow along.

Build a Playhouse
All kids love to take part in building forts and playhouses. A nice side effect is that they'll painlessly pick up geometry while using measurements & angles. On a smaller scale, plan and build a Lego fort.

Give Them Puzzles
Young children learn valuable spacial lessons while putting together puzzles of all types. Tangrams (geometric shapes that can be put together to create pictures and new shapes) are also great tools.

Let Them Earn Some Money
Even tiny tots can do small jobs and earn some pocket money. pay the money with different denominations of coins each week so your child starts to identify coins and their value.

Use Math Games
There are so many great board games that incorporate maths concepts.

Do Connect the Dots
Paint by number, connect the dots and other "funbook" type sheets are great ways to learn early concepts while having fun.

Play Dice Games
Kids can roll the dice & add the numbers, play "horses" or make up lots of games on their own.

Sing Songs & Memorise rhymes
Everything from "10 Green Bottles sitting on the wall" to "5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed" teaches counting down and subtraction. Many jump rope songs involve numbers too, and kinesthetic learners (those who learn best while doing and moving) and auditory learners (those who learn best by hearing and saying things) will especially benefit from moving and singing while they learn.

Count items around the house
Gather up items around your house such as buttons, pencils, paper clips, etc. Put them in stacks and count them with your child

Play Hopscotch
Use chalk and draw a hopscotch game outside. Make sure to say the numbers out loud as you play.

Read counting books
Check out counting books from the library. Read counting books to your child. Have him practice counting as you read the book.

Have a treasure hunt
Fold up ten pieces of paper. On each piece of paper draw a number of items. For example, draw one fish, two triangles, or three apples. Also write a clue on the paper telling where to find the next number "clue". Start the game with number one and end with the number ten. Have your child count the items on the page before you read the clue.

Play a telephone game
Using a toy telephone and a telephone book, have your child call an order a pizza. Help him read the number and press the numbers on the phone. You can also call the florist and have flowers delivered. Let your child use his imagination.

Make a counting book
You can purchase a blank book at an educational supply store or make your own with construction paper and a three-hole punch. On each page have your child draw or trace a number. Have him draw items such as balls, worms, or smiley faces to correspond with the number. Make pages for one to ten or one to twenty if your child is older.

Play an "I spy" game
Take turns playing "I spy". Look around your room and say, "I spy something we have two of (or three of)..." It could be speakers for your stereo, cushions on the couch or pictures on the wall, or anything you can count.

Some of my favourite books to use when I'm teaching about numbers and counting are:
  • Hungry Monsters Teach Counting in Rhyme by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe and illustrated by Lynn Munsinger.

  • Young Children Can Learn to Count Down From Ten With Ten Little Ladybugs written by Melanie Gerth and illustrated by Laura Huliska-Beith

  • Miss Spider’s Tea Party Teaches Counting With a Social Lesson written and illustrated by David Kirk.

  • Six Dinner Sid by Inga Moore

  • The Bad-tempered Ladybird Eric Carle, a good story to discuss the concept of size with a young child. This book would also be excellent for consolidating a child's understanding of time, as at the top of each page it shows a clock face with the time that the bad-tempered ladybird meets each animal.

  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar

  • The Shopping Basket by John Burningham

  • Nine Ducks Nine by Sarah Hayes

  • Handa's Surprise by Eileen Browne

  • The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson

  • One is a Snail, Ten is a Crab by April Pulley Sayre


  1. Do you have a poem for each number? If so, is can you share the poems too?

    1. http://www.littlegiraffes.com/mathnumberformationpoems.html

  2. I would love to get a copy of each poem too.... I am mum to 2 children with Down syndrome(5yrs and 4yrs) - it is a struggle with learning sometimes especially with literacy and numeracy. Any suggestions/ideas would be fantastic. Thanks Kath :o)

    1. This website has the poems, but not the nifty pages. http://www.littlegiraffes.com/mathnumberformationpoems.html

  3. Hi Ladies, You can get a copy of the poems for numbers and letter at this site. You pay a small yearly fee (Just AUD $19.95 (approx. USD $17, GBP $10)Quality Hands-On Early Childhood, Kindergarten, Preschool and Early Primary Teaching Resources.. All ready to print in YOUR school font for your 0-8 year old...

  4. what exactly is the goo in the bags made from?

  5. It is just a bottle of glitter paint from Lincraft!

  6. WOw, I LOVE this idea, I am going to do this for a busy bag for my children and it will do double duty for letters as well...ty for sharing!

  7. You can make the "goo" using hair gel (from the dollar store!!) and food coloring - and glitter too if you want too! Super cheap!!

    1. Love this inexpensive "short-cut"---- thanks! :)

  8. I made these with hair gel and food coloring. I also taped the top of the baggies closed, to avoid having my students open them. Success!

  9. We just made the bags with cornstarch and water, basically made thickened water and added food coloring. Another cheap way to do it. I did it in a big batch and cooled it before adding to the bags. Then added food coloring in the bag so we didn't have to cook up multiple batches. We wanted to add glitter too but we were all out...
    Good idea to tape the bags shut too!

  10. Why not teach pre-school children to count Asian style and get a head start.

    See https://sites.google.com/site/childmathematics/mathematical-skills-in-early-childhood

    Hold off on the conventional English names for the problematic 11-19 numbers until they are fluent with the following names:
    (1) Shorten ten to te (pronounced tee)-It flows better and it ends in the same sound as almost all other multiples of ten.
    (2) Pronounce 11-19 tee-one through tee-nine.

    I used this scheme to help my visual (eye tracking) training while walking. Rhythm is important for the visual training and I needed a goal so it would get done. Counting is more rhythmic with the Asian style because 1-99 all end in 1-10 sounds. I count while matching steps to eye movement; the sounds repeat in a natural rhythm. It’s so easy and mindless that I can think about other things. (a 3-fer exercise)

  11. Here is another reference to support this mmethod for teaching children to count.


  12. I love the number bags. I am going to make some for my son.

  13. i am gonna use it in my class i think it'll be fun

  14. Awesome, awesome, awesome!! Thanks for all the great stuff!! I enjoy your posts and great ideas!!!

    baby nursery rhymes

  15. Children has the ability to learn in their own unique ways . Nice post and great information . determining the ability of children and encouraging them is very important . Thank you for the information.