8 Tips for Learning to Count Groups of Things

Children need a lot of opportunities to say the counting words and use them to count groups of things. Thankfully, counting opportunities are all around us.

Learning to count groups of things is a key early math skill. It can also be a lot of fun for young children! Here are some strategies to practice counting groups of things.  

1.     As children begin to learn counting, model how to count each thing and encourage the correct order of counting words. “One. Two. Three. There are 3 in all.”

2.     After counting, emphasize the total number of things in the group. One way is to sweep your finger around the whole group and ask, “How many are there?”

3.     Start with a small number of things to count. As children grow confident with these numbers, gradually move to larger numbers by adding one or two more things to the group at a time.

4.     It’s easiest for children to learn how to count if everything in the group looks the same (e.g., all beans or paper clips). Next, introduce variety, such as different types of beans or different colors of paper clips. Last, count things as a group that aren’t related at all, such as a spoon, book, block, and cup.

5.     Help children count one thing at a time, no matter the size, shape, type or color of what’s in the group. “We have two racecars and three buttons. Altogether we have 1,2,3,4,5. Five.”

6.     Start by counting things arranged in a straight line. If children count from one end to the other, it’s easy to keep track of what’s already been counted and what to count next. Then, arrange things so they’re not in a straight line but still easy to keep track of, such as in a square or zigzag formation. Last, challenge children to count things that appear to have no order, such as things scattered on the table.

7.     Help children figure out ways to keep track of what they’ve counted. Move things aside, mark them on paper, or put them in a line. “Did you already count that? What can you do to keep track of which ones you already counted?”

8.     When children make a mistake, ask guiding questions to help them figure out the answer. “What number comes after 3?” “Can I point to this one and say both 3 and 4?” “Let’s try counting again.”

Children need a lot of opportunities to say the counting words and use them to count groups of things. Thankfully, counting opportunities are all around us.

About the Author

Barbrina Ertle is an associate professor in education at Adelphi University.