Learning to Count (why is it so Hard?)

The Countdown: Our first exposure to learning to count.

We all use indicators to warn/scare our kids back “in line”. My father used to hold up one finger.  That’s all- one finger… I don’t recall ever seeing him put up a second finger.  My mom would count to three… no, maybe five… I don’t know- I didn’t pay attention. Some parents count checkmarks or subtract checkmarks.  The point is, the countdown is a common tool in the parenting tool belt, and it is probably our first exposure to learning to count.

I read (somewhere in my distant past) that a parent should count backwards.  This gives the child an idea of how long he/she/they have to comply with the parent’s request.  Turns out, I countdown a lot. So much so, that Number 7 learned how to count backwards from ten before he learned the correct way.  I’m not exaggerating.  When No.7 was two, he would yell “Nine!” if he heard my husband or I call out the number ten to spur another child into action.  He would even prompt us with the next number in the sequence if we didn’t move on right away.

Learning to Count (the right way)

After we realized we were making preschool difficult, we started counting forward more often.  He picked up on this “new” way of counting pretty quickly, sort of like learning a new language!

Now in Pre-K, Number 7 makes me face palm so much while he “counts” and recites his ABC’s, I worry our neighbors suspect my husband is giving me black eyes.

Maybe I’m being impatient, or maybe he’s not the sharpest pencil in the pencil box.  It just seems that numbers aren’t Number 7’s “thing”.

learning to count
Trying to figure out what he ‘colored by number’

Pre-K Math Homework:

Me (pointing to a group of 4 bananas on the worksheet): Count these bananas and CIRCLE them if there are four.
Number 7: One, two, three, four, five.
Me: No, you counted that banana already. Count them all again.
Number 7: One, two, three, five!

When Numbers sneak into Language:

The English language is just plain hard to learn sometimes, especially with To, Too, and Two.  Not to mention…

*Took the paper towel away from No.7 before he had finished drying his hands*

Number 7: No! I need this one! (Points above his wrists)

Me: Oh, you still need to dry your forearms?

Number 7: No, my two arms.

*When Number 4 was pushing Number 7 wildly around the kitchen in a toddler car*

Number 6: Mom, Number 4 ran over my toe!

Me: Number 4, what do you say?

Number 4: …sorry.

Me: I’m sorry for running over your toe; it was an accident.” Say it…

Number 4: I’m sorry.

No. 6 and I prompted in chorus: For???

Number 7: FIVE, SIX!!!

Ages: they’re only important if you can count them on your fingers.

Of course the most important numbers to young children are their ages.  My four-year-old asked me out of the blue one day, “How many do you have?” I eventually understood that he was asking me how old I was.  When I answered “42”, he said, “Oh! 42…mom, show me on your fingers.”

Abstract Thinking

Number 7, like most preschoolers, still has trouble understanding that 4 ounces of water in a short, fat container is still 4 ounces of water when it is in a taller, skinnier container.  And that 2 chips broken into crumbs, are still 2 chips.

This concept was highlighted when Number 7 asked for 4 additional chips, but I only gave him 2 more.  His solution was to break the chips apart until he had more chips: counting all the way up (and down, forwards and backwards) to “twenty-teen” before happily deciding he had eight chips.

learning to count
Counting with Manipulatives

Work in Progress

Number 7 has made some progress slowly throughout the school year.  After all, he no longer “reads” the H-E-B sign saying, “S…P…I”, or faults his pencil for writing a “B” instead of a “D”.

It’s actually been months since I’ve forced my 4-year-old to do his homework worksheets.  The stress was just too much on the both of us, so we’ve compromised; Grandma and I have him work on puzzles, blocks, and other manipulatives instead.  Sorry Mrs. A.

If you’re looking for great ideas and tools to help your little one get a solid foundation for math skills, visit www.teachpreschool.orgThese ideas allow kids to move, touch, and play while they learn. 

Learning to Count is difficult because of confusing language, limited abstract powers, and having only ten fingers. It’s a wonder that only 5 out of 4 people have problems with fractions when they grow up!


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