Counting Doesn’t Add Up to Math

Sometimes we tend to think too simplistically about mathematics and young children. You hear someone say, “My daughter knows all her numbers. She can count to 20.” While counting is an accomplishment, it is only one very small part of knowing numbers.

            Counting to 10 or 20, or even 100, is called rote counting and requires only memorization of number order. The child may or may not have any real understanding of amount or quantity.

            Number vocabulary and concepts that young learners can begin to use in meaningful ways include some, more, less, bigger, smaller, pairs, groups, parts, and wholes. Talking and thinking about numbers and quantity as a part of doing activities is a natural way for children to develop mathematical concepts.

            Parents can point out math-related aspects of everyday situations. Use number words in conversation: “Let’s put these two shirts here” or “I need three more glasses on the table.” Estimate how long it will take to get to Grandmother’s house. Measure how far the ball rolls. Divide a dozen cookies among four family members.

            A simple math vocabulary grows from experiencing cooking and measuring, understanding that numbers have names and written symbols, guessing and estimating, and talking about days and weeks. These experiences lay the groundwork for beginning math.

            Parents play an important part in building children’s initial math understandings. Look for ways to help kids see the fun and usefulness of knowing more than how to count to 100.

Family Friendly Communication for Early Childhood Programs
National Education for the Education of Young Children
Deborah Diffily and Kathy Morrison, editors; 1996; pg. 71.

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